President Calderón's leadership key to effectiveness of joint effort
The initiative, first announced by then-President Bush in October 2007, is designed to enhance government efforts to halt drug trafficking and transnational organized crime, while also improving the rule of law in Mexico and Central America. (See "Merida Initiative Takes Aim at Transnational Crime.")
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington — A U.S.-Mexican partnership to curtail the drug trade and violence that threaten the stability of Mexico is on track, thanks to an unprecedented level of cooperation by the government of President Felipe Calderón.
“Mexico has been an extraordinary partner in the Merida Initiative, and that is one of the main reasons the agreement has been supported by the U.S. government,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson told America.gov February 20.
“Merida gives us the reassurance” that U.S. cooperation with Mexico will continue in the fight against the drug trade and escalating violence that led to more than 5,000 Mexican deaths in 2008, Jacobson said.
The initiative, first announced by then-President Bush in October 2007, is designed to enhance government efforts to halt drug trafficking and transnational organized crime, while also improving the rule of law in Mexico and Central America. ( See “Merida Initiative Takes Aim at Transnational Crime.” )
According to the State Department, about 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States comes via a trade controlled by three major Mexican drug cartels that have waged turf wars and battled Mexican authorities with deadly results. In May 2008, for example, Mexico’s acting federal police chief was assassinated by drug lords and, in February 2009, a convoy transporting the governor of Chihuahua was attacked in Ciudad Juárez.
After his election as president in 2006, Calderón declared war on the cartels by sending 6,500 troops to counter drug-related violence in the state of Michoacán.
In June 2008, the U.S. Congress agreed to provide $465 million as the first portion of Merida Initiative funding. Approximately $400 million of that first installment went to Mexico. In all, Mexico is slated to receive $1.4 billion over a three-year period to train prosecutors and law enforcement officers, purchase equipment ranging from helicopters to surveillance aircraft and support judicial reform and inclusion of civil society.
Jacobson, who was instrumental in drafting the agreement, said: “It is important to remember Merida was only possible because President Calderón requested the assistance. And that in itself is really quite dramatic. Mexico has not asked for U.S. government assistance at this level before.”
This was a policy change, she said, that made it easier for President-elect Obama “to talk about maintaining our support for President Calderón ’s fight when they met in January.”
Jacobson said Calderón “brought two things to the table that make this partnership work. One, he asked that we talk about this organized crime/drug problem as a shared problem for which we both had responsibility. Now, within the U.S. government there is a sense and acknowledgement of our responsibility in this problem which has played very well with Mexican public opinion.
“Second, Calderón really came to the table wanting us to cooperate on law enforcement and intelligence issues so the drug traffickers couldn’t exploit our differences, which is a common technique of theirs.”
Calderón ’s leadership has brought dramatic results, Jacobson said. “In 2008, we had huge seizures of drugs in Mexico; more than ever before. The largest cash seizure in the world — over $200 million — was found in one man’s house. The level of drug-related extraditions to the United States by the Calderón administration has also been unprecedented.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, extraditions to the United States from Mexico of drug cartel members, including the head of the Gulf Cartel, increased from 63 in 2006 to 83 in 2007.
“Calderón has also gone after corrupt Mexican officials in a way that we have not seen before,” the U.S. official said. “In the past, officials who were discovered to be corrupt were moved out of sensitive positions but not necessarily prosecuted. Now, Calderón has decreed criminal trails should be followed to where they lead and people are being prosecuted.”
Because of these achievements, U.S. congressional enthusiasm for the initiative remains high and bipartisan, Jacobson said. “Although it [Merida] was proposed by a Republican administration, it was passed by a Democratic [party-controlled] Congress.”
Jacobson said: “We have seen no indication from the Democrats [in Congress] that they want to stop Merida. We also just recently had two very important congressional delegations go down to Mexico … to look at how we’re doing on Merida; to look at how we can do more, and we were very encouraged by that.”
While in Mexico City the delegation met with Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, toured Public Security Secretariat facilities and met with Mexican law enforcement officials to discuss reforms to the anti-drug and modernization efforts.
“Things may change,” Jacobson added. “We may need to adapt to circumstances, including on the ground in Mexico, but I don’t think there is any reason to doubt that we will continue this very strong support for President Calderón.”
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