Cristal Downing

Cristal Downing: NewYork University, Latin American Studies

Cristal Downing is currently completing her Master’s in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, where she is focusing on Inter-American Relations and Regional Development. Originally from London, UK, Cristal completed her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania and since then has accrued more than four years of development and policy experience in Guatemala, Argentina and most recently in Bolivia, where she worked on a variety of human rights and development projects in the prisons of the city of Cochabamba. Cristal is also the Founder and Executive Director of Fundación ALMA, a non-profit that aims to bring music and arts education to disadvantaged children in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Smoke and Mirrors: The United States’ elusive approach to human rights in the War on Drugs in Mexico and why a focus on institutional development could be the solution

Discussions of U.S. accountability in the fight against the Drug-Trafficking Organisations (DTOs) in Mexico have gone on for decades. This discussion has in many cases focused on lowering demand for drugs and diminishing the flow of firearms from the U.S. to its long-suffering neighbor to the South. In both Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative, the U.S. has emphasized military involvement in counterdrug efforts. However, credible research shows that excessive militarization in projects usually undertaken by police forces can lead to unnecessary violence and human rights
violations. This is what has happened in Mexico where the military is using war tactics to address civilian issues. Yet the U.S. has not taken notice of this indicator that their approach to the violence south of the border should be revised. Given that these human rights abuses are taking place and that Mexico has failed to respond to this issue, the U.S. should transfer its focus from military assistance to institution building and development projects so that people have alternatives to drug production and trafficking in order to make a living. Such a change in direction would also decrease military presence and result in a diminished incidence of human rights abuses by representatives of the Mexican state, allowing the Mexican people to regain some element of trust for their own government. A focus on social institutions and development would have a long-lasting positive impact on Mexico, something with which the U.S. should be concerned given Mexico’s proximity and the history of neighborly tensions between the two countries. These tensions could in turn be greatly alleviated by economic stabilization and a broader development-based approach to ending the War on Drugs.