White House asks Congress for $410 million under Merida Initiative

On Feb. 1, the White House solicited Congress for the allocation of $410 million to Mexico and Central America for fiscal year 2011, starting Oct. 1. The money would be used to support counternarcotics efforts under the Merida Initiative. Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew said in a press conference that Mexico would receive $310 million dollars and Central America the rest. “We are working very closely with the Mexican government,” he said, while also emphasizing efforts to strengthen the rule of law and human rights. The Merida Initiative’s limited human rights conditions have been a controversial aspect of the program.

President Barack Obama‘s proposed budget plan for FY 2011 would decrease aid to Latin America by nearly 10%, mostly by cutting military and police support. The plan calls for economic development aid in the region to stay about the same, while aid for health programs would increase. Obama’s budget proposal increases overall spending by the State Department, with much of the proposed increase going toward programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Colombia and Mexico, currently the largest recipients of US aid in Latin America, would receive less funding in 2011 under Obama’s plan. Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew said the cuts represent Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiatives moving on to less costly phases. Most of the helicopters the US promised Mexico under the Merida Initiative, for example, have already been delivered. Colombian Minister of Defense Gabriel Silva, however, plans to ask US congressional leaders to maintain support for Plan Colombia when he travels to Washington on Monday.

The Obama plan would cut overall aid specified to combat drug trafficking by $16 million, with most of the cuts slated for Colombia. However, anti-narcotics programs across the region would still receive $690 million in 2011. Assistance directed toward Latin American development initiatives would essentially remain constant with 2010 funding, with $736 million allocated for programs such as agricultural initiatives, judicial reform in Colombia, and support for Cuban civil society. (Borderland Beat, Feb. 2)

In its first two years, 2008 and 2009, $700 was provided to Mexico and Central America under the Merida Initiative. Additionally, Congress approved $470 million in security aid to Mexico in supplemental funding in May 2009. Of this, $310 million went directly to Mexican military, and the rest to the police forces. (Americas Program, May 18, 2009)

Last year, Amnesty International called on the US Congress to honor its commitment to withhold 15% of Merida Initiative funding, asserting that Mexico had not met its human rights obligations. “Giving money and equipment to the Mexican military without adequate controls on its use risks contributing to an escalation of human rights abuses,” said Susan Lee, Amnesty’s Americas director. (Amnesty International, Aug. 5)

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