Monday, January 4, 2010

No Return No Deposit; Merida Initiative


Mexico City - Washington DC - Mexico is currently engaged in a vicious drug war that according to last year (2009) statistics, it is losing miserably. It has become a bloody conflict that has claimed the lives of 7,724 people throughout the country, 2,657 in Ciudad Juarez alone.

This drug war that is being waged in the streets of Mexico has cost the U.S. taxpayers $465 million so far through the Merida Initiative Agreement that was signed by former U.S. President George Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. So now, the United States has a stake in Mexico's brutal drug war for it will  provide $1.4 billion over the next three years .

On the surface it does not appear we are getting our return in our investment. It is fair to say that the $465 million has really not done enough to help reduce the violence that is crippling Mexico and the border cities like Juarez.


The crime statistics are not good enough results to merit the continual of blind spending, because if we look real closely, we can see that the violence is beginning to cripple Juarez. I am starting to believe that the U.S should not spend another dime until the U.S. makes an assessment on why the Mexican government has failed to slow down the violence.

As of last year, the U.S. began spending the $465 million that Congress approved in 2007 in the Merida Initiative, a three-year counter-drug and anti-crime package for Mexico and Central America.

Most of the money, $400 million, will be spent on scanners, helicopters, boats and computers in Mexico. Perhaps the money is not being deployed where is needed. Perhaps the Calderon plan is not working and we need to ensure that efficiency is at the core of the strategy.

Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, strongly rebuts any insinuation that Mexico isn't sound or is on the verge of collapsing, as some U.S. military officials claim. However it is obvious that violence in Mexico is escalating at an alarming rate despite the fact that the Mexican government has deployed thousands of military forces and reinforcements of federal police throughout Mexico, including Juarez.

Mexican officials make it clear that the Merida plan is a joint cooperating agreement, not the U.S. stepping in. But if the U.S. is truly a partner ($$) in this initiative, it is responsible to the people of the U.S. and Mexico that the strategy work to realistically reduce violence and stop the drug flow in to the U.S. The current strategy at best is a total failure.


So yes, overall, the Merida Initiative, as proposed by the Bush administration, will spend $1.4 billion on initiatives in Mexico over three years. But not all the money is in the bank. Only $465 million has been approved, and several congressmen have said they want to see how the first phase goes before they approve spending any more money to help Mexico fight the cartels.

I hope they look very hard at the results in the first phase, violence has increased, the drug flow to the U.S. continues to spew out of control and people in Mexico are not just dying, they are dying in large numbers. The only thing we have seen in the last couple years is more of the same "more drugs go north while the drug money and guns go south." All under the plan of the Calderon's administration who have failed to produce any significant results.

Yes, the Mexican government in few instances has arrested or killed a drug lord but there are people waiting in line to take their place. Yes, the cartels are killing each other for the "sweet spots" in the trafficking corridor that leads to the U.S. border, but they never seem to run out of sicarios, or corrupt police or by that matter corrupt poilticians. In the mean time, the Mexican people continue to be caught up in the endless waves of violence.

Last year U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that he was extremely concerned about the rising violence in Mexican border towns and its dangerous implications for Texas border towns.

"He is currently examining ways to best use federal resources to quell border violence and keep families and businesses in El Paso and all border communities safe," had said Jessica Sandlin, Cornyn's Texas press secretary. "He supports assisting the Mexican government in fighting narco-terrorism due to its serious implications for our national security but believes any U.S. assistance should be grounded by strict accountability measures to ensure those funds are being used effectively and responsibly."

Before any money is spent, the U.S. Department of State produced several reports justifying the use of the money. One report issued in January by the Congressional Research Service states that the U.S. has a shared responsibility for combating crime in Mexico because 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States moves through Mexico.

"The Merida Initiative envisions strengthening and integrating security from the U.S. Southwest border to Panama," the federal report states. "The desired end state is to produce a safer and more secure hemisphere where criminal organizations no longer wield the power to destabilize governments nor threaten national and regional security and public safety; as well as to prevent the entry and spread of illicit drugs."


In December, the United States and Mexico signed a letter of agreement allowing $197 million in Merida funds to be disbursed. While President Barack Obama has not officially said whether he will continue to support the Merida plan, he has expressed some support to the Mexican drug war.

"It supports the systemic change that President Calderón is after," said William McGlynn, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

Goals of initiative

The International Narcotics and Law Enforcement bureau of the U.S. State Department is assigned to oversee most of the Merida Initiative money.

McGlynn said the initiative does not call for sending cash or U.S. troops into those countries. All of the money will be used on products bought in the U.S. or on programs the State Department can monitor.


The initiative has four principal goals:

1. Break the power of criminal organizations.

2. Help Mexican and Central American governments strengthen their borders and air and sea controls.

3. Improve justice systems in the region.

4. Curtail gang activity in Mexico and Central America, and diminish the demand for drugs in the region.

"This is Mexico's plan, not ours," McGlynn said. "A lot of the tactics and techniques in the Merida Plan are theirs, not ours. We are just supporting what Calderón is doing."

McGlynn said the main reason the U.S. chose to help Mexico is that Calderón is already spending $3 billion of Mexico's money to combat the cartels. And Calderón asked for help.

"The U.S. and Mexico now have a different relationship," he said. "This is the top priority for Mexico right now. It will take a long time for the system to change, but this has not been done before."

Ray Walser, a public policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., said that anyone who expects this three-year plan to change the historically corrupt culture in Mexico is expecting too much.

"It is not designed to do that," he said. "But it is a start that will tip the balance of that country in the direction we want it to go. Ending the corruption in that country will be a long battle, but the process is starting."


No immediate relief

El Paso city Rep. Beto O'Rourke does not question the use of the money in Mexico or the plan's strategic goal. His concern is that the plan does not provide any immediate relief and does nothing to quickly end the violence.

16,205 people have been killed in Mexico so far during the administration of President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. Officials estimate that 93 percent of those slain have ties to the cartels. A large portion of the homicides occurred in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, termed by many as the most dangerous city in the world.

"The implication that we are not going to do anything, that we are going to let the cartels duke it out is unbelievable especially when innocent people are being killed, businesses are being extorted and everyday Juarenses are being kidnapped," O'Rourke said. "We know the violence is affecting more than just the cartels."

And it will soon affect El Paso, if it hasn't already, officials said. More than 54,000 jobs in El Paso are directly connected to Juárez.

Daily life for the 1.2 million people in Juárez has been disrupted, he said.

People in Juarez are afraid. People along with businesses are starting to move away, trying to escape from the violence. Restaurants are mostly empty, and the occupancy rate for hotels is less than 40 percent. The violence must stop because what is happening is not sustainable.

The funding for the Merida Initiative will have to be revaluated on what "returns" are being produced on the overall efforts before the U.S. is willing to make any "deposits" of funds to a failing strategy. The people on both sides depend on it and deserve better.

Not only are people in Juarez dying, but little by little. Juarez itself is dying.


Merida money:

* In June 2008, the 110th Congress appropriated $465 million in supplemental assistance for Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

* On Dec. 3, 2008, the United States and Mexico signed a letter of agreement, allowing $197 million in Merida funds to be disbursed.

* Since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, Mexico has increased security spending to $4 billion.

* The Bush Administration designed the Merida Initiative as a $1.4 billion, three-year counter-drug and anti-crime package for Mexico and Central America that would begin in fiscal year 2008 and last through fiscal year 2010.

* Funding for 2010 has not been approved.

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