US Senate approves “Plan Mexico”; narcos keep up pressure

Six local police officers were killed in Culiacán, Sinaloa, June 27 when two carloads of heavily armed men cut off their vehicle in an ambush. The attack came two hours after a shoot-out between armed men and federal army troops assigned to the Mixed Urban Operations Base, leaving one gunman dead and several wounded, including a solider. That same day, Mexican authorities applauded the US Senate’s approval of a $400 million drug war aid package for Mexico.

The attack followed the slaying June 26 of Igor Labastida, a senior officer in the Federal Preventative Police, when a gunman opened fire on him as he ate lunch in a Mexico City restaurant. One of his bodyguards was killed as well. Labastida was the fifth top commander slain in 13 months.

Labastida had survived an earlier assassination attempt, and his name appeared on a hit list circulated by drug gangs. Another senior commander on the list, Edgar Millan Gomez, was killed in May. More than 4,400 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico, including hundreds of police officers, since President Felipe CalderĂłn took office in December 2006.

The assassinations, along with the gangs’ growing habit of decapitating their victims and issuing threats using posters and the Internet, “have a clear objective to intimidate, frighten, paralyze society and, with that, force the federal government to retreat,” said Government Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino. He hailed the approval of the so-called “Plan Mexico” funds—despite criticisms that the US is not doing enough to halt the flow of guns into Mexico. Mourino praised the aid package as “a concrete expression of the principle of shared responsibility” in the drug war. “Are we totally satisfied with what is being done? Not yet,” he said at a press conference. “But we are satisfied at having made the US government aware of the level of the problem, what it represents for our country and the need to take steps on the US side.” (LAT, June 28; La Jornada, June 27; El Universál, June 26)

Earlier this week, police found four decapitated heads in a picnic cooler along a highway in Durango, along with a note saying, “This is a warning,” listing an alphabet soup of Mexican police agencies. “You get what you deserve.” Police in neighboring Chihuahua state found five bodies accompanied by a hand-lettered placard reading, “This is what happens to stupid traitors who take sides with Chapo Guzmán”—an apparent reference to Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “Shorty” Guzmán. (LAT, June 11)

See our last posts on Mexico and the narco war.

  1. Congress approves “Plan Mexico”
    On June 26 the US Senate passed a supplemental appropriations bill which included funding for President George W. Bush’s Merida Initiative, a project ostensibly aiding the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America. The House of Representatives passed the same bill on June 19, and President Bush is expected to sign it, completing the legislative process.

    The legislation provides $65 million for Central American countries and $400 million for Mexico in the first year of the project; Mexico’s share includes $215.5 million for Mexico’s anti-trafficking programs, $116.5 million for “military cooperation” between Mexico and the US, and $20 million for building institutions and supporting human rights organizations.

    The Senate and the House passed different versions of the Merida Initiative in May, but Mexican officials objected to conditions the Senate imposed requiring the monitoring of human rights violations by Mexican security forces. The two houses then worked out a compromise that reduces these conditions to a consultative process between Mexico and the US.

    Under pressure from US human rights and labor activists—who called the initiative “Plan Mexico” in reference to a similar package that has funded military operations in Colombia—Congress expressed concern about specific allegations of human rights abuses in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico state, and in Oaxaca in 2006. The legislation also notes the Mexican government’s failure to resolve the shooting death of independent US journalist Brad Will in Oaxaca in October 2006.

    The Merida Initiative is a small part of the overall appropriations bill, which provides $162 billion for the occupation of Iraq, enough to pay for the war until Bush’s term ends in January 2009. (La Jornada, June 27)

    Clarification: In Update, June 15, we reported on an authorization that the House of Representatives passed on June 10 for the Merida Initiative. We said the authorization would go to the Senate for approval. In fact, Congressional authorizations are not necessary for the allocation of funds, and Congress decided to bypass the authorization and simply fund the initiative through the supplemental appropriations bill. (Center for International Policy “Plan Colombia and Beyond” blog, June 13)

    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 29