WASHINGTON — Coinciding with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s trip to Washington, activists ramped up pressure Tuesday on the United States to withdraw its support from an administration that they allege is riven with corruption and frequently colludes with the drug cartels it is supposed to be fighting.
Demonstrations are planned in 11 cities across the U.S. as Peña Nieto travels to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama and Cabinet secretaries for a day that is meant to focus on economic cooperation.
Peña Nieto vowed in a Sunday address to combat corruption and impunity and to strengthen transparency. In late November he announced a 10-point package of reforms to address corruption at the municipal level, but his critics appear far from satisfied.
“Mexico cannot continue like this … After Iguala, Mexico has to change,” he said, referring to a rural town where 43 students disappeared last year in an incident blamed on local corruption.
The protesters, many of whom are Mexican-Americans, say they want the U.S. to halt aid to the Mexican government, particularly through the Merida Initiative, a 2007 agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that has funneled $2.3 billion to the Mexican government to combat drug cartels and organized crime as part of the United States’ decades-long war on drugs.
Critics say the initiative has instead militarized security forces in Mexico and funded widespread human rights abuses by the government against its people, despite specific conditions pertaining to human rights in the initiative. Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization, says it has documented numerous examples of these abuses, “including 149 cases of enforced disappearances.”
Despite the criticism, Obama has said he plans to continue the project “indefinitely.”
“Our government is the primary backer of a government that’s killing and disappearing its own people,” said Roberto Lovato, one of the co-founders of the #USTired2 campaign, which is organizing the protests Tuesday and attempting to galvanize U.S. residents on the issue. “It’s actually disgraceful that our president is meeting with Enrique Peña Nieto. His hands are bloodied by guns and disappearances and killings that have been funded with our tax dollars.”