Friday, September 21, 2012

Governments come and go, Mérida Initiative will continue

So predict Mexican foreign minister and U.S. secretary of state, at a final diplomatic summit

Guadalajara -
In the U.S. fiscal year which begins Oct. 1, Mexico will receive another $250 million under a joint security agreement worked out with the United States in 2007. The Mérida Initiative was negotiated between outgoing PAN president Felipe Calderón and former U.S. president George W. Bush during his second term, to address the rising power of international drug cartels which threaten the domestic security of both nations. The plan is named after the Yucatán capital, where the two leaders met to hammer out the details. And although Congress is not entirely enamored of it, Members continue to fund the pact every year, often bickering over the details. (U.S. set to approve more Mérida Initiative funds, amid continued charges of torture, human rights violations by Mexican army).

Of the $1.6 billion approved by Congress in 2008, about $1 billion in equipment and training has been delivered. In return, the U.S. receives military and police intelligence to which it would not otherwise have direct access. An unstated but understood part of the agreement is that the U.S. will have the right to maintain some boots on the ground in Mexico (Fallout continues after attack on CIA agents, as Mexico and U.S. disagree over what happened at Tres Marías). The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Anthony Wayne, says that he supports the Mérida Initiative because no one has come up with a better idea. But some House Republicans have proposed scrapping the plan and diverting the funds to new programs covered by the proposed Enhanced Border Security Act (HR 3401). That bill has gone nowhere, however, in large part because it officially declares drug cartels to be terrorists, an idea a bit to strong for the Obama administration and many in Congress, and one which angered Mexico.

In any case, earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Mexican counterpart, Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, agreed that both countries will stick with the Mérida Initiative, even though one government will change for sure on Dec. 1, and another one could, depending upon the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November. "We're looking towards the future," said Clinton (widely expected to serve during a second Obama term), and we firmly believe that although presidential administrations can change, and elections come and go, we've established a firm base of cooperation that's worked to the benefit of both countries, and will continue doing so for many years."

An official communique issued by the secretaries at the close of what may be their final conference said they "recognize the importance of continuing to confront a common threat in Latin America," and promised an "unprecedented commitment in the battle against organized crime, with special focus on arms trafficking and money laundering."

Mexico's president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, will take office on Dec. 1. His transition team has already indicated that the PRI leader will continue to follow a drug war policy closely resembling that of outgoing president Felipe Calderón. That policy, known as the National Security Strategy, has as its centerpiece the use of the Mexican armed forces in narcotics interdiction and domestic policing. Peña Nieto's decision to stay the course will undoubtedly please the U.S., regardless of who wins in November, and will ensure a continued flow of Mérida Initiative funds. The president-elect made a trip to Washington in November 2011, and according to one source, assured American leaders that he'd "do whatever you tell me to do" on drug war issues. Now he appears ready to deliver on that promise.

President Obama remains firmly committed to the Mérida Initiative, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has given no indication that he feels otherwise, or would abandon it.

At the close of her final summit with Clinton, Foreign Minister Espinosa employed some very telling language: "We've agreed on the necessity of continued broad cooperation based upon the principles of shared responsibility, mutual trust and respect for the (sovereign) jurisdiction of each country." The last clause tells it all, and perhaps carries a subliminal message for Big Brother to the north: "You run your country, we'll run ours."

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