Merida Initiative funds mired in red tape: GAO report

On July 21, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, released a report he commissioned from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Merida Initiative. Western Hemisphere Subcommittee ranking member Connie Mack (R-FL) joined Engel’s request for the report, which argues that current evaluation mechanisms for the Merida Initiative need improvement. The report also finds that Merida funding funding has been mired in bureaucratic hurdles, but is now moving to Mexico and Central America at a much more rapid pace.

Said Engel: “Nearly three years and $1.6 billion after the announcement of the Merida Initiative, our counternarcotics assistance to Mexico and Central America lacks fundamental measurements of success. While I strongly support our efforts to combat narco-violence in Mexico and Central America, our long history of counternarcotics spending in the Western Hemisphere demands that we better define our goals.”

In December, the GAO issued a report on the slow speed of Merida Initiative assistance. In the news study, the GAO notes that the Obama administration has picked up the pace significantly. Added Engel: “I commend President Obama and Secretary Clinton for cutting through our government’s red tape to get the Merida Initiative moving. We must continue to expedite Merida assistance to Mexico and Central America.” (Eliot Engel press release, July 21 via )

Engel’s applause was echoed by Adam Isacson, senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights and research group. “When you consider the urgency with which politicians talk about violence in Mexico and the threat it poses to us, to have only delivered 9% after two years is pretty remarkable,” Isacson said. (Bloomberg, July 22)

Car bomb in Ciudad Juárez
The report comes after Mexico suffered its first car bomb attack in the fast-escalating cartel wars, leaving four dead in Ciudad Juárez on July 16. The blast targeted a federal police outpost. Two officers and two medics answering an emergency were killed. Authorities said the attack was retaliation for the arrest this week of a leader of “La Linea” faction of the Juárez Cartel. (LAT, July 17; BBC News, July 16)

The Mexican government of President Felipe Calderón has been accused of tilting to the rival Sinaloa Cartel.

See our last post on Mexico, Central America and the narco wars.

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  1. WOLA is gross
    WOLA just serves empire, here is Isaacson saying to send more and faster Merida Initiative funding, when it is opposed by hundreds of groups in Central and South America and is a murderous package. They are doing the DC on the Hill bidding of the empire for their crumbs.

    1. More context needed on WOLA quote
      A reader emailed me about this quote. Here’s what I told him:

      “My point was the hypocrisy of all the politicians running around Washington with their hair on fire about violence in Mexico as a pretext to send them military hardware — but then once they get a pile of money to send military hardware, they only deliver 9% of it after two years. Wait a minute. Wasn’t this an emergency? Or did they just waste money creating the illusion of action when a much less military aid package could’ve been delivered long ago?”

      Mérida’s supporters insisted that it look the way it did because of an “urgent need.” The GAO report destroys that argument – there’s been nothing urgent about the way they’ve moved.

      That’s what I was saying. _Please_ don’t think WOLA has ever approved of the huge part of the Mérida package that went to the Mexican army and navy. If you go line-by-line through the rest of the Mérida package, you’ll probably find items that WOLA supports and you don’t. But not the military aid.

      1. WOLA and empire
        Isaacson’s explanation is not convincing. WOLA has supported this bill from before it was passed and the quote makes clear that Isaacson was lighting a fire under appropriators to distribute their largesse to Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras – some of the countries targeted by the militarization package.

        Of course, this is not the only case in which WOLA has advocated and spun its support for militarization and abuses. here’s another:

        People see through this well-funded DC think tank. WOLA does a severe discredit to human rights advocacy efforts in Latin America through its mealy-mouthed statement. How about an action alert to hold up Free Trade agreements with Colombia and end military aid to that country until ALL OF THE ETHNICALLY CLEANSED AFRO-COLOMBIAN AREAS ARE REPOPULATED WITHOUT VIOLENCE BY THEIR ORIGINAL INHABITANTS.

        Sad that WOLA used to really advocate for human rights.

        Gross indeed.

        1. Simply false on WOLA
          One last post, just in case anyone reading this doesn’t share these commenters’ malice.

          Saying WOLA supported this package doesn’t make it true.

          We support aid to help reform the judiciary and other civilian institutions in Mexico. But WOLA opposed the military aid even before the Bush administration announced what would be in the package, and then during the congressional debate in 2008. The proof is right there on our website.


          That’s the record.

          1. WOLA never opposed it
            interesting dialogue here, looked into it, wola never ever opposed it, just plain and simple….then i looked into the links he offered….

            the 2007 testimony, such that is available since it is not fully available despite the links, is this from Maureen there at WOLA:”She added that the security package has the potential to curb drug-related violence, ”
            potential… does not oppose it, says “potential”, code word in empire that mean “go for it mo fos!”

            2008 link you provide, another quote from that;”“The Merida Initiative is important in terms of bilateral cooperation to address drug trafficking and drug-related violence in Mexico…” “important” it is, you say.. gross, when hundreds of local groups are OPPOSING IT! Wola is offering tepid testimony that can go either way, depending on how they spin it to you.

            ok, 2009 he provides too:
            “Any next stage for the Merida Initiative should contain a truly bi-national plan of action, with the U.S. outlining what it will do on our side of the border to reduce violence and drug trafficking.” Next stage? we are trying to defeat it and defund it outright, and there goes Maureen Meyer as usual serving the empire’s interests, just like dear Adam.

            If you are serious Adam, can you take a clear stance against Merida Initiative? No Wola keeps offering testimony to keep it going, just like you honored Mr Plan Colombia – Sen Dodd. Very dangferous and harmful people are Adam and Maureen.

            Just say no, that is more simple. LOOK: The demilitarization conference also called for an immediate halt to the recently launched “Merida Initiative,” the Bush administration’s new Trojan horse for remilitarization of the region. The resolution asserts that the measure “expands U.S. military intervention and contributes to the militarization of our countries” and representatives from the Central American nations and Mexico included in the military aid package committed to a process of monitoring the funds and defeating further appropriations.

            800 representatives from organizations throughout the Americas, yes that is 800, that just said no. Just say no to the Merida Initiative.

      2. wola used to stand for something good
        Isaacson serves the empire well, likely getting a raise soon, that’s why he is off and running these days in the internets.
        WOLA never opposed this military package, what more is there to say?

        He is just another shill on the Hill now, very sad. wola used to be an entity that was respected by on the ground people, no more. Now they support fascists like Engel.

  2. World War 4 Report weighs in on WOLA
    We should make clear at this point that when we wrote “Engel’s applause was echoed by Adam Isacson…” we were going with how it was portrayed by our source, Bloomberg. We’re glad we’ve provided a forum to get this debate in the open, but it probably would have been more professional to seek a comment from WOLA before echoing Bloomberg’s spin. We all know that the much-vilified “mainstream media” frequently get things wrong…

    That said, it’s also WOLA’s responsibility to follow through when comments from their folks are misconstrued in the MSM…