Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sen. Patrick Leahy blocks $95M in Mérida Initiative funds

MGR News Analysis -
Vermont Democrat says he's dissatisfied with Enrique Peña Nieto's "lack of clear strategy" in drug war, but does the problem lie much closer to Capitol Hill?

Guadalajara -
On Feb. 17 MGR published a piece entitled U.S. freezes Mérida Initiative funds promised to Mexico, which is still being heavily read seven months later. That's a good thing, because the problem is yet far from resolved.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D. Vt.) thinks that Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto is not doing enough to go after Mexico's 60-80 drug cartels and to disrupt the enormous narcotics trafficking industry, so he's closed the purse on $95 million dollars which should have been sent to the nine month old PRI administration in January. Leahy chairs the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which, if it wants to, can hold hostage funds for programs approved by the Congress and signed into law by the president. That's the case with the Mérida Initiative cash.

The Mérida Initiative is a 2007 agreement between the United States and Mexico which provides for U.S. training and equipping of Mexican military and police forces, as well as intelligence gathering and sharing. As of Dec. 31, 2011, U.S. funding of the Initiative was at about $900 million, or over half of the $1.6 billion budgeted by Congress in 2008. The drug war deal derives its name from meetings held in the Yucatán capital between former Mexican president Felipe Calderón and president George W. Bush the year before. Both countries have said they believe the program will endure. Governments come and go, Mérida Initiative will continue.

In February 2012 president Obama asked Congress to approve another $234 million in Initiative funds for fiscal year 2013. In his transmittal message to representatives Obama said, "A stable Mexico will enhance the national security of the United States, promote economic development in the country and protect U.S. citizens, especially along our shared border."

In the spring of 2012 the money was approved by both chambers of Congress in the exact amount requested by the president, together with $10 million for U.S. drug war intelligence operations. The 2013 fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2012 and will soon be over. Obama asks Congress for $244 million towards Mexican drug war.

According to reports carried in the Mexican press on Feb. 17, virtually none of the $234 million had yet been handed over to the then new administration of Enrique Peña Nieto as of that date. In April, $134 million was finally released. But the balance has been bottled up by Sen. Leahy.

Last year the main justification given for holding back funds was concern over purported human rights abuses by Mexican military forces during the now 80 month old drug war (U.S. set to approve more Mérida Initiative funds, amid continued charges of torture, human rights violations by Mexican army). What MGR wrote in February remains true today: Alleged abuses by Mexican troops are "largely a smoke screen, which have conveniently served the private interests of all sorts of strange bedfellows (Human Rights Watch's condemnation of Mexican drug war reveals little understanding of conflict)."

More from MGR's original report on the congressional funding "blockade":

"This year's argument, and the ostensible basis for the current freeze, is alleged congressional concern that Mexico's president has not clearly demonstrated that he will "cooperate (a quote from the Spanish press) with Washington in matters of security." In other words, he's not proved he'll be a team player in the drug war. The same issue troubled Sen. John McCain (R. AZ.) [in early 2012].

"The contention is plainly a non-starter. Mexico's president is now [255] days into the job. Over and over again, by word and deed, he's not only made it clear that he plans to stick to former president Calderón's army dependent National Security Strategy, but he'll expand federal military participation in the drug war. In any case, Enrique Peña Nieto has no option but to follow Calderón's strategy, as the U.S. security consulting firm Stratfor noted last month. There's no other play in the playbook.

"A week ago the new president was interviewed by the prestigious German magazine Der Spiegel. Much to his credit, he discussed at length his plans for dealing with endemic poverty in this country. He pointed out that 11,000 Mexicans died from starvation in 2011. But Peña Nieto did not hesitate when asked about domestic security. Promising that the army will not be withdrawn from the streets and returned to its quarters until it's safe to do so, he said: 'We must crush organized crime'."

Yet Senator Leahy, a seasoned and highly competent legislator, is still complaining about the same things, despite the fact that there is much more evidence now than there was in February that Enrique Peña Nieto is indeed committed to "Felipe Calderón's drug war," as so many like to call it, and will stay the course (the massive miscalculations and grand dismay of so many in the U.S. press notwithstanding).

This week Leahy claimed that the Peña Nieto administration has failed to display a "clear strategy" in the war against drug trafficking. "We toss them money, but there's never any accounting," a Leahy staffer said. "We've received less than three pages explaining their strategy. The violence and drug trafficking continue. The senator is not disposed to sign off on a quarter billion dollars with things the way they are."

Senator Leahy's aides must not be monitoring Mexican current events very closely. On Apr. 30 the PRI government captured its first big fish - the father-in-law of Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, boss of the Sinaloa Cartel and the most wanted drug lord in the world. And the victory wasn't purely symbolic. El Chapo's relative, Inés Coronel Barrera, operated a huge marijuana trafficking business in his own right just across the border from Douglas, Arizona. It's easy to figure out where all the grass was headed.

Then on July 15, Mexican security forces took out the Head Enchilada of one of the country's most violent drug cartels - all without a shot being fired. Top Los Zeta boss, Z-40, arrested near Nuevo Laredo. Praising the operation, president Obama candidly acknowledged, "We have to continue doing our part to reduce the demand for drugs in this country, and the flow of cash and arms south."

In both instances Mexican federal security forces, not state or local police, were fully in charge. Well trained and highly disciplined military units remain at the vanguard of the drug war offensive, as they were during Calderón's administration. No one else is remotely equipped to take on the powerfully equipped cartels, with resources rivaling some nations' defense forces. Mexican army shines again in Treviño Morales takedown.

The Washington Post had high praise for president Peña Nieto in a Mar. 29 editorial, nothing things which Sen. Leahy may have not considered:

"Mr. Peña Nieto’s foreign minister, José Antonio Meade, told us during a visit to Washington last week that the new administration plans to build on Mr. Calderón’s large expansion of police forces while aiming to combat trafficking by attacking its root causes, such as poverty and the lack of employment. Some in the Obama administration worry that the new president is diverting resources and focus from the drug war. Yet Mr. Peña Nieto is tackling problems that have held back Mexico for a generation, helping to create the economic misery that empowers the drug cartels."

Senator Leahy might want to redirect his complaints to the leader of his own party, rather than to Mexico City. All street drugs, even marijuana, remain flatly prohibited in the United States, and for any ostensible purpose whatsoever - medicinal, recreational or otherwise. Yet almost two dozen American states now purport to have legalized cannabis for its alleged therapeutic value, and two jurisdictions, Colorado and Washington, purely for pleasure. Thus far the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to those blatant violations of federal supremacy principles, and many in Mexico don't understand why. On eve of Obama visit to Mexico, U.S. drug czar releases "new strategy".

MGR wrote in February, "Washington should stop playing power politics with Mexico's democratically elected government. The Congress should pay what it promised to pay. And many north of the border should try actually listening to Peña Nieto and his PRI team, instead of delivering erroneous forecasts of brewing (drug war) defections."

As for the "lack of resolve" in the drug war - which is and must remain a joint U.S.-Mexico endeavor - the problem may rest far more in the White House than it does in Los Pinos. American consumer demand ultimately drives Mexico's brutal seven year conflict, and presidents and generals alike here are utterly powerless to control that factor. Obama tells Mexico: "drug legalization not the answer."

Aug. 29 - U.S. will take no action against Colorado and Washington over marijuana legalization laws

Jan. 3, 2014 - The U.S. position on marijuana is entirely hypocritical, and Mexico should reconsider its own laws on the subject. So argues this editorial in today's edition of the rather left-leaning La Jornada. Whatever the merits of the writer's second argument, he is unquestionably correct on the former.

Aug. 17 - Mexican army captures leader of Gulf Cartel
Aug. 16 - Mexico claims drug war deaths are plummeting
Aug. 3 - Mexicans are heavily opposed to marijuana legalization
July 28 - Mexican armed forces arrest 4,760 drug traffickers in first eight months of PRI administration
July 11 - An "off the books" component of the Mérida Initiative may have included U.S. spying
July 10 - Peña Nieto: American espionage "totally unacceptable"
May 17 - Mexican military still at vanguard of the drug war
Mar. 15 - U.S. splits over marijuana, but Kansas says it's still illegal in Sunflower State
Mar. 11 - Enrique Peña Nieto's three smart decisions
Feb. 19 - New York Times figures it out: in drug war, Enrique Peña Nieto = Felipe Calderón Hinojosa

Dec. 23 - Mexico's new PRI government seeks huge increase in domestic security budget
Dec. 19 - Enrique's challenging homework
Nov. 8 - Mexico's incoming PRI government pays little attention to U.S. marijuana legalization efforts
Sept. 6 - Peña Nieto transition team confirms: Mexican army, marines will stay on the streets
July 7 - Security consultant elaborates on "new" Mexican drug war strategy - but is it?
July 5 - Enrique Peña Nieto's Manifesto makes New York Times
May 17 - Struggle against drug cartels and organized crime will be his legacy, Felipe Calderón says

Obama: U.S. drug demand responsible for damage done to Mexico and other nations

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

Cancún competitors divide up narco sales territories the old fashioned way, December 2011

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