On Oct. 22, 2007 President Bush announced the $1.4 billion dollar "Merida Initiative," security aid package to Mexico and Central America. The initiative has fatal flaws in its strategy; instead of leading to a stable binational relationship and peaceful border communities, its military approach will escalate drug-related violence and human rights abuses.
Mexico and the United States face a joint challenge in decreasing transnational organized crime and they must cooperate to strengthen the rule of law and stop illegal drug and arms trafficking over the border. This misguided policy will result in an inability to achieve its own goals and will waste taxpayers' money. It will also seriously undermine the U.S.-Mexico relationship and Mexican stability.
Soon the U.S. Congress will vote on the Initiative, popularly referred to as "Plan Mexico." The little-known appropriations request has been tagged on to the multi-billion dollar Iraq supplemental bill and has been presented as an unprecedented effort to fight burgeoning drug trafficking and violence related to organized crime in Mexico. But the "regional security cooperation initiative" goes far beyond cooperation in stopping the flow of illegal drugs. It would fundamentally restructure the U.S.-Mexico binational relationship, recast economic and social problems as security issues, and militarize Mexican society.
Over half of the packet would go to Mexican military and police forces accused of documented and yet legally unresolved human rights violations. At the same time, no money is allotted for drug treatment and harm reduction in either country, and the colossal "cooperation" package completely ignores the serious problems that exist within the United States, including the entry of illegal drugs, widespread sale and consumption, crossborder gun-running, and money laundering.
This aid packet would place the United States' binational relationship with one of its closet and most sensitive allies in the realm of vaguely defined security issues. While mandating a huge increase in aid to Mexico, it includes no funds to finally address the poverty gap and development needs of our southern neighbor.
To begin a public debate on the dangers inherent in Plan Mexico, first it is important to understand what it is.
Plan Mexico, or the Merida Initiative, was presented after months of anticipation and hermetic negotiations as a three-year, $1.4 billion "Regional Security Cooperation Initiative." Members of the U.S. Congress immediately complained that the Bush administration provided no information to congressional committee members until the deal was done.
The request for fiscal year 2008 for $550 million has been attached to the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill, to be voted on in Congress in the coming weeks. Fifty million dollars are earmarked for Central America, while the remaining half-billion goes to Mexico, primarily for military and police equipment and training.
Under the rubric of "Counter Narcotics, Counter Terrorism, and Border Security" the initiative would allocate $205.5 million for the Mexican Armed Forces. Over 40% of the entire packet goes to defense companies for the purchase of eight Bell helicopters (at $13 million each, with training, maintenance, and special equipment) for the Mexican Army and two CASA 235 maritime patrol planes (at $50 million each, with maintenance) for the country's Navy.
Most of the $132.5 million allocated to Mexican law enforcement agencies also lines the pockets of defense companies for purchase of surveillance, inspection, and security equipment, and training. The Mexican Federal Police Force receives most of this funding, with Customs, Immigration, and Communications receiving the remainder.
The rest of the 2008 appropriations request is comprised of $112 million in the "Rule of Law" category for the Mexican Attorney General's Office and the criminal justice system. This money is earmarked for software and training in case-tracking and centralizing data. The initiative would also give $12.9 million to the infamous Mexican Intelligence Service (CISEN) for investigations, forensics equipment, counterterrorism work, and to other agencies including the Migration Institute for establishment of a database on immigrants. The U.S. government allots $37 million of the packet to itself for administrative costs.
The proposed 2009 budget of a reported $450 million to Mexico is much the same, with a larger share going to the police, assuming that by then the notorious corruption among those agencies will have been at least partially remedied-a dubious assumption at best ($120 million to the armed forces and $252 million to the police and other law enforcement agencies).
All of these programs are directed to the goals of supply interdiction, enforcement, and surveillance-including domestic spying-according to the "war on drugs" model developed in the United States in the early 70s under then-President Richard Nixon. 2 This military model has proved historically ineffective in achieving the goals of eliminating the illegal drug trade and decreasing organized crime, and closely related to an increase in violence, instability, and authoritarian presidential powers.The NAFTA Connection
The "Merida Initiative" received its name from a meeting between Presidents Bush and Calderon in Merida, on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, in March 2007. The official story is that President Calderon, already committed to a "war on drugs" that relies heavily on the use of the army in supply interdiction, requested U.S. assistance at the Merida meeting and, after negotiations on the details, the U.S. government acceded.