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Mexico seeks antidrug aid from the US

A deal is underway to increase US involvement in the fight against Mexican drug lords.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 8, 2007


Alarmed by rising threats to Mexican law and order from ever-more-brazen drug lords, the Bush administration is quietly negotiating a counternarcotics aid package with the Mexican government that would increase US involvement in a drug war south of the border.

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The fact that Mexico – which has historically been averse to any assistance from the US that could be construed as a breach of its sovereignty – is seeking the increased aid shows how serious a threat President Felipe Calderón sees drug gangs posing to his country.

The aid package could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars and include everything from Blackhawk helicopters and other sophisticated military equipment to increased training and surveillance capabilities. The discussions are underway as Mexico confronts one of the bloodiest periods in more than two decades of drug lords building and consolidating power. Since 2006, Mexico has suffered 3,000 drug-related killings as the two most-feared drug gangs – the Sinaloa and Gulf – have battled for turf, lucrative transport routes, and political influence.

Upon taking office in December, Mr. Calderón wasted no time, signaling his will to confront gangs by sending thousands of troops into states where Mexico's top six gangs operate. He also used diplomatic channels to issue a hushed but urgent plea for assistance from the US – the primary market for Colombian cocaine transported through Mexico.

"It's a huge difference that Calderón is asking for assistance, something [former President Vicente] Fox never did," says Adam Isacson, director of programs at the Center for International Policy in Washington. "They have to be swallowing hard to even be asking the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in aid."

A sensitive issue

Officials from both countries are reluctant to discuss details of the aid package, given Mexican sensitivities and the questions sure to arise in the US Congress over human-rights abuses in Mexico and the infiltration of drug gangs into Mexican police and military. But President Bush and Calderón are expected to take up the issue when they meet in two weeks at a NAFTA summit in Canada.

Calderón has not been shy about publicly airing what he sees as the US role as a drug-consuming country in Mexico's violence, and therefore its responsibility to help address the problem. But the scope of the package has led to it being dubbed "Plan Mexico" in some congressional circles – a comparison to the multi-billion-dollar "Plan Colombia" begun under President Bill Clinton to help Colombia battle an entrenched "narcoguerrilla" and wean the rural economy off of cultivation of the coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine.

Comparing Mexico's case with Colombia's is misleading, analysts say, in part because Mexico is guarded about even a suggestion of US military intervention.

"Mexico prohibits US military training in the country, and that's not about to change," says Maureen Meyer, director of Mexico issues at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Currently Mexico receives about $40 million a year in counternarcotics assistance from the US, which puts it well below Colombia and even Peru – a country that, like Colombia, is a producer of coca. Some Mexican soldiers do receive training in the US, and the FBI trains and works with police in Mexico. But unlike in Colombia, where the US Army and Marines have served training and advisory roles, no one is discussing the idea of putting American military personnel on Mexican soil.