Congress mulls “Plan Mexico”

The White House is hoping Congress will pass the Bush administration’s request for an initial $550 million for narcotics enforcement in Mexico and Central America before the fast-approaching holiday recess. The proposed aid package, known as the “Merida Initiative,” has been hailed by the Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderón as “a new paradigm” of bilateral cooperation in the war on drugs and terrorism. Some 40% of the $550 million is slated to pay for eight new helicopters and two new airplanes for Mexico. The funds are attached to a $50 billion supplemental military funding package the administration is seeking to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008.

Noting that some 90% of the cocaine consumed in the United States transits Mexico, Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the State Department’s Assistant Secretary overseeing the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told lawmakers at a Nov. 14 hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that there has been a dramatic spike in drug cartel activities in Mexico and Central America over the past ten years. Shannon said cartel operatives have infiltrated municipal and state law enforcement in the region, “substantially weakening these governments’ ability to maintain public security and expand the rule of law.”

But lawmakers expressed dissent at what they called the secretive process behind the aid program. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, said it is “disturbing that the [Bush] administration did not involve its coequal branch of government, the United States Congress, in developing this initiative.”

“We first learned of the initiative from the media,” protested Lantos, adding that the “hope that the legendary corruption in the Mexican police apparatus will somehow diminish or disappear as a result of this proposal strikes me as also naive.”

Shannon countered that the Merida Initiative was the result of a multilateral foreign policy effort sparked by President Bush’s visit to Latin America in the spring. “The impetus for the Merida Initiative came out of [Bush’s] March trip to the region; particularly his visits to Guatemala and Mexico, where security concerns dominated the conversations with [Guatemalan] President Berger and President Calderón,” he said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged lawmakers to reject the proposal unless conditions are included to address rights’ abuses by Mexican security forces. HRW cited such reports as a case in 2006, when soldiers in Coahuila state beat seven municipal police and sexually abused 14 women.

Some elements of the Mexican military have also taken the US to task for failing to control the flow of guns into Mexico. In an interview with Reuters, Gen. Javier del Real Magallanes, head of the army drug operation for northeastern Mexico, said: “If there are no weapons, there’s no violence. These arms aren’t from Mexico; they’re from the other side.” He added that more surveillance and detection equipment was necessary, but would not be sufficient. “We lack technology, technology is expensive. We also need the United States to do what it should with respect to arms trafficking… We have to put a brake on the sale of arms,” said the general, whose jurisdiction covers the states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, and San Luis Potosi.

A Mexican government study estimates that some 2,000 guns enter Mexico daily from the US. Garen Wintemute, a professor at UC Davis and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program, reproached the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF): “Unfortunately, I don’t think that the ATF does an effective job of regulating the firearm industry. It’s clearly not their fault. There are very, very strict limits set on what they’re allowed to do.” There is no registry of gun sales in the US, making the tracing of arms a difficult task. (Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Dec. 14; World Politics Review, Dec. 13)

See our last post on Mexico’s narco war. See also our special feature on “Plan Mexico.”

  1. Police chief assassinated in Baja California
    José Juan Soriano Pereira, police sub-chief in the border town of Tecate, Baja California, was assassinated in a pre-dawn attack at his home Dec. 4—hours after US authorities had discovered a cross-border tunnel apparently used by drug smugglers. (LAT, Dec. 6; Terra Actualidad, Spain, Dec. 4)

    Nearly 14,000 pounds of marijuana in shrink-wrapped bundles was found in the tunnel. 56 such cross-border tunnels have been discovered since aboveground enforcement was stepped up after 9-11. (NYT, Dec. 7)

  2. Mexican complaints about arms from US
    The gall of Mexican officials never ceases. Its president interferes in our prsidential race and now wants to enter the US just before a large number of primary elections. He lashes out at the US for its immigration law whilst at the same time Mexico enforces much stricter laws on its southern border. Now we are reproached for not controlling arms flow to Mexico. Simultaneously the Mexican government aids and abets violation of our immigration laws and its military has entered the US without permission over 200 times. Let’s offer Calderon a deal: You stop the illegal immigration and then we can reassign officers to controlling the arms flow.

    1. What are you talking about?
      How did Calderon interfere in the US presidential race? Mexico is stiffening enforcement on the Guatemalan border at US behest. When has the Mexican military entered the US without permission? I challenge you to post some documentation for these claims.

      1. mexican army
        The Mexican army crossed into the USA just after the Katrina Floods. Over 20 Mexican military vehicles fully loaded and armed and were stopped in Texas. They were headed for New Orleans in full combat dress and made it across Texas before being stopped. Wake up!!!!!

        1. Mexico attacks US?
          Until you post a link, I will consider this an urban legend, hombre. Your B-movie scenario is probably based on the following incident. From a State Department press release, Sept. 9, 2005:

          Mexican Army Convoy Arrives in US To Assist Hurricane Victims
          A Mexican army convoy of 45 vehicles has arrived in the United States, charged with the humanitarian mission of bringing aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

          The convoy of green tractor-trailers, adorned with Mexican flags, crossed the international bridge at Laredo, Texas, on September 8, beginning at approximately 8:15 a.m. By 8:30 a.m., all the vehicles had arrived on the U.S. side of the two countries’ shared border, according to Associated Press reports.

          Carrying water treatment plants, two mobile kitchens that can feed 7,000 people a day, and 15 trailers of bottled water, blankets and applesauce, the convoy is bound for San Antonio, escorted by the U.S. Army and the Texas Department of Public Safety. After the convoy’s leader, General Francisco Ortiz Valdez, exchanged greetings with the head of the U.S. Army unit in charge of the escort, Brigadier General F. Joseph Prasek, the vehicles were en route to their destination.

          Military engineers, doctors and nurses are among the 200 people in the convoy, sent by Mexico to provide relief to those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

          Gee, sounds scary.