Merida Initiative Will Help Battle Drug Trafficking

Recognizing that illegal drug trafficking is not just a Mexican and Central American problem but also a problem for the United States, Congress and President Bush have launched a multiyear partnership to provide equipment and training to support law enforcement efforts to curb the flow of illegal narcotics.

Congress passed legislation in late June to provide Mexico with $400 million and Central American countries with $65 million this year for the Merida Initiative, and Bush signed the legislation into law June 30 at the White House.

The Merida Initiative, proposed by Bush in October 2007, is significant for several reasons. It establishes a solid partnership with Mexico and Central America in a campaign to stem the flow of illegal drugs sent by criminal organizations into the United States. It also respects the sovereignty of Mexico.

“This bill includes $465 million for the Merida Initiative, a partnership with Mexico and nations in Central America,” Bush said at the signing ceremony. The measure was contained in the fiscal year 2008 supplemental appropriations bill that primarily includes funding for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Mexico, the help comes at a critical time. Mexican authorities have reported that drug-related crime has been responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1,400 people nationwide this year and 2,500 in 2007. The Mexican government has spent approximately $7 billion in an 18-month-old campaign against drug cartels. It is estimated that 90 percent of the cocaine coming into the United States comes through Mexico.

U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, the chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs, praised the bill’s passage. “I am confident that this language will be acceptable to both the American and Mexican governments. The United States and Mexico must continue to work together to tackle our common security challenges and reduce drug trafficking and violence on both sides of our border.”

Originally, the Merida Initiative legislation included a requirement to make Mexico’s police operations more transparent and responsive to complaints, and to ensure investigations of reports of abuse. However, Mexico already has those requirements in place. That requirement was reduced substantially at Mexico’s request.

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Merida Initiative – Hot spots where police corruption and extreme cartel violence prompted an increased use of the military in law enforcement roles.

Bush had sought $500 million this year for Mexico and $50 million for Central America, but Congress cut $100 million for Mexico and boosted the amount for Central America. It is part of a three-year, $1.5 billion plan.

The Merida Initiative includes funding for nonintrusive inspection equipment, ion scanners and canine units for Mexico and Central America to stop drugs, arms, cash and criminals. It also includes secure communications systems, helicopters and surveillance aircraft, and it includes training and community action programs for anti-gang measures.

The full text of President George W. Bush’s remarks can be read on the Government Publishing website.

By Merle D. Kellerhals Jr.

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