Fed up over the state-sponsored violence and corruption done in the name of the "War on Drugs," people gathered outside the White House and Mexican consulates in a dozen cities across the U.S. on Tuesday to protest Mexican President Peña Nieto's visit.
Hundreds converged outside the White House and outside Tuesday morning where Nieto will meet with President Obama. The visit comes amidst a growing crisis in Mexico where citizens are rising up against the government and what they say is its complicity in the September 26 disappearance of 43 student teachers, among other atrocities.
The students, who hailed from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Ayotzinapa Normal School, a leftist teachers college, "have become a symbol of the over 100,000 murdered and 25,000 disappeared in the last 8 years since the escalation and increased militarization of the Drug War by the U.S. and Mexican governments," said protest organizers School of the Americas Watch.
The group says that Obama's meeting with the Mexican leader "is a shameless exhibition of the open support of Peña Nieto's Narco-Government and a slap in the face of the Mexican people in their rightful clamor for security, well-being, peace, democracy, and true justice."
Organized by SOA Watch, Mexicanos Sin Fronteras, and USTired2 (a translation of "Ya Me Canse," which has become a rallying cry against Mexican government corruption), demonstrations are planned in 12 cities including Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and St. Louis on Tuesday. A rally was held in New York City on Monday.
The group of protestors, which included many Mexican-Americans, are calling on the U.S. to suspend its aid to the Mexican government. Since 2007, the U.S. has funneled $2.3 billion to the Mexican government through the Merida Initiative, a bilateral agreement to combat organized crime as part of the U.S.’s decades-long War on Drugs.
Despite provisions that Mexico meet a set of basic human rights requirements to obtain funding, critics of the drug war say the agreement has led to the increased militarization of Mexican security forces and funded widespread human rights abuses by the government against its own citizens.
According to Human Rights Watch, these include "149 cases of enforced disappearances.”
"Despite unequivocal evidence—including cases documented in the State Department’s own reports—that Mexico has failed to meet these requirements, your administration has repeatedly allowed the funds to be released," wrote José Miguel Vivanco, Americas executive director for HRW, in an open letter to President Obama published Monday.
The letter continues:
In its most recent report, in September 2014, the State Department justified the release of funds on the grounds that Mexico has demonstrated "progress" toward meeting the requirements, which is not the standard set by the law and does not reflect the reality in Mexico. More recently, when asked about the funds for Mexico conditioned on meeting human rights requirements, you said that "the best thing we can do is to be a good partner and to build on the progress that’s been made."
Mr. President, in light of the Mexican government’s failure to address the problem of abuse and impunity, we believe the best thing the United States could do now to be a "good partner" would be to press President Peña Nieto to take this crisis more seriously.
"If Obama gives Peña Nieto the expected pat on the back, it will be a stab in the back to the Mexican movement for justice and transparency," wrote Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy. The protesters, Carlsen notes, are following a "long tradition of fighting for democracy in Mexico."
Roberto Lovato, one of the co-founders of the USTired2 campaign, called Obama's meeting with Nieto "disgraceful."
"His hands are bloodied by guns and disappearances and killings that have been funded with our tax dollars," Lovato was quoted as saying. "Are Mexico’s mass graves going be a part of the Obama legacy? Or will putting an end to the mass graves be part of the Obama legacy?"