$500 Million Anti-Drug Aid Package Signals Change

0 Million Anti-Drug Aid Package Signals Change
October 29th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: $500 Million Anti-Drug Aid Package Signals Change

0 Million Anti-Drug Aid Package Signals Change
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
October 29, 2007
Pg. 1
By Chris Hawley, The Arizona Republic
MEXICO CITY - When Mexico's foreign minister laid out her proposal for a military and police alliance against drug lords in a meeting in Washington last spring, the veteran U.S. diplomats in the room realized it was a break from the past.
"We all immediately grasped the historic nature of the moment," Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said. "It represented a dramatic departure in our bilateral relationship."
Experts say the $1.4 billion "Mérida Initiative," which was made public last week, is a major change for Mexico, a country long suspicious of U.S. meddling in its affairs. U.S. officials hope it could open the door to more cooperation on immigration, terrorism and addressing world threats.
Five months after Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa first outlined the plan in a May 22 meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, the first $500 million of aid is being debated by Congress. The three-year package includes money for surveillance aircraft, police-officer training, high-tech communications gear and weapons.
Though the money would be used to help modernize Mexico's crime-fighting abilities, some left-leaning politicians worried the pact would give U.S. agents access to state secrets and erode Mexico's independence.
The United States "wants to make our country submit to it, in order to eventually get our oil and natural resources, which are the property of the nation," Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the 2006 presidential candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, told a meeting of supporters on Friday.
President Felipe Calderón's government has responded by saying the aid would be in the form of equipment and training, and that Mexico would not be flooded by U.S. agents.
"There is no need to have (U.S.) advisers, nor troops, nor civilians, nor soldiers dressed like civilians, as people are saying, in Mexico to apply this Mérida Initiative," Mexico's assistant attorney-general for international affairs, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, said in a radio interview.
In general, however, there has been little opposition to the plan, reflecting a change in the way Mexico sees its neighbor, analysts said.
"Society in general wants security; it wants institutions that are more committed to peace and order," said Antonio López Ugalde, a law professor at Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. "Being backed by a country like the United States in this fight against crime is appealing to people."
The Mexican government's distrust of the United States dates to the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, when Mexico lost half of its territory to its northern neighbor.
The Mexican military has long refused most U.S. aid, does not participate in joint exercises with the United States and does not allow U.S. bases on its soil. For decades, it sent aircraft mechanics and other technical personnel to the United States for training rather than allow U.S. military trainers to work in Mexico.
But that began to change under President Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive who had studied in the United States and whose grandfather was an American.
During Fox's 2000-2006 term, U.S. military and police aid to Mexico nearly tripled from $15.7 million in 2000 to $45.8 million in 2006, according to figures compiled by the Center for International Policy, a Washington think tank.
The Fox administration also began extraditing more alleged drug smugglers to the United States to stand trial, handing over a record 63 suspects in 2006.
In 2003, Mexico began permitting U.S. military trainers to give classes in Mexico City. And the content of the training changed, with soldiers taking classes in counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering instead of purely technical subjects. Some of the students were trained at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
President Calderón has taken the anti-drug fight further by sending troops into Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Michoacán state and other places plagued by drug violence. He also handed over to the United States several key drug suspects, including the alleged leader of the Gulf Cartel, Osiel Cardenas Guillen.
Calderón first suggested a joint drug-control strategy at a March summit with President George W. Bush in Mérida, Mexico. But it wasn't until Espinosa proposed a dollar figure on May 22 that U.S. officials learned how ambitious Calderón's plan really was, Shannon said.
At $500 million, the U.S. aid package is equivalent to more than half of the Mexican Justice Department's 2007 budget of $846 million.
U.S. officials are hoping the aid, which must be approved by Congress, would help Mexico patrol its southern border better, cutting the number of Central American migrants who reach the U.S. border and disrupting smuggling networks, Shannon said.
"Ultimately the kinds of organized crime networks that move drugs and weapons also move people," he said. "There are different kinds of kinds of contraband, some with beating hearts, some without, but it's contraband."
Though the Bush administration has stressed that U.S. personnel would not be going on missions with Mexican police, Shannon said the two countries were still discussing maritime security agreements that might allow better anti-drug coordination.
He noted that the surveillance planes the U.S. would buy for Mexico are the same model that the U.S. Coast Guard flies, raising the possibility of joint anti-drug missions sometime in the future.

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