MEXICO CITY — The United States government has spent only 2 percent of the more than $1 billion it has pledged to help Mexico win its battle against drug traffickers, according to a government study released Thursday.
Despite vows by the Bush administration, and now the Obama administration, to help President Felipe Calderón of Mexico in his three-year-long assault against drug cartels, actual spending totaled only about $24 million by the end of September, the Government Accountability Office said.
Carlos Pascual, who became the American ambassador to Mexico in august, said the 2 percent figure is misleading and does not capture hundreds of millions of dollars that is in the process of being spent. “The logjams have been broken,” he said in a telephone interview Friday, indicating that five bell helicopters would be delivered to Mexico next week.
Two years ago, the United States announced a $1.4 billion, multiyear aid package for Mexico and Central America, a huge increase over previous spending, but the delivery of the money has been bogged down by burdensome contracting rules and other delays, the agency found.
The slow disbursement of funds has frustrated top Mexican officials, with Mr. Calderón raising the issue in a meeting with American lawmakers this year.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, questioned about the slow spending when she visited Mexico City in July, acknowledged that “our long process of approval was cumbersome and challenging for the Mexican government” and vowed to “see what we can do to cut that time.”
Mexico and the United States first agreed to increase American antidrug aid during meetings in March 2007 between President George W. Bush and Mr. Calderón in the city of Mérida. The so-called Mérida Initiative resulting from the meeting represented the largest foreign aid package in the Western Hemisphere since Plan Colombia, a multibillion-dollar effort initiated in 2000 to combat drug cartels and end the insurgency in that country.
The hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid pledged for Mexico represents a significant increase over previous spending. In 2007, for instance, Mexico received only $36.7 million in counternarcotics assistance. Central American nations have also been promised more money in antidrug aid, and spending in the region has been similarly behind expectations.
The State Department attributed some of the delay to the challenge of tracking all the money and programs spread across numerous government agencies, saying that dozens of additional staff members have had to be hired at the American Embassy in Mexico to handle administrative matters.
Helicopters and a surveillance plane are the most expensive items, and contracting requirements associated with such aircraft have slowed the spending, officials said. It usually takes two years from the beginning of contract negotiations for helicopters to be delivered, State Department officials said. In Mexico’s case, the time lapse will be much shorter if five Bell helicopters are delivered as scheduled. But delivery of a surveillance plane and Black Hawk helicopters for the Mexican military will take longer.