U.S. finalizing aid for Mexico's drug war
But Mexican concerns about the plan's human rights conditions could scuttle it.
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The congressional conditions are also causing the southern neighbors to jab back. In a recent radio interview, the man in charge of Mexico's war with the drug lords, deputy attorney general José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, quipped that both countries might be better off if the United States kept its money and used it to stem the flow south across the border of the high-powered weapons that the gangs prefer.Skip to next paragraph
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No one is questioning that Mexico is fighting the drug cartels – which transport 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the US – with new zeal. President Calderón has assigned 25,000 soldiers and police to fighting the gangs, which in many cases are better armed (and remunerated) than their government counterparts.
As of May, more than 1,400 deaths had been tallied in Mexico's drug war this year – about a 50 percent hike over last year, according to Mexico's attorney general.
It was this newfound Mexican dedication to fighting the cartels that led President Bush to unveil the new aid package with Calderón last year in the Mexican city of Mérida – an act that prompted the White House to call the assistance the "Mérida initiative."
But some Latin America and human rights experts dubbed the huge new package, with its emphasis on military hardware like helicopters, "Plan Mexico" – in reference to the decade-old, multibillion-dollar "Plan Colombia" initiated under President Clinton. That nickname rubbed Mexico the wrong way.
It was inevitable, some analysts say, that Mexico's historical preoccupation with US interference would arise with a US assistance package of this magnitude, says Adam Isaacson, director of programs at the Center for International Policy in Washington.
Still, Mr. Isaacson believes that in the end, the aid package will be approved – and accepted by Mexico – for two reasons. First, Mexico needs the modernized equipment and training that the package offers, he says.
But the money, he says, also allows the US to do something about the destabilizing violence next door without really taking on the causes of that violence at home. Isaacson says, "It's almost like, rather than taking on some powerful constituencies here, it's easier to offer a grab bag of assistance for the Mexicans to deal with the problem over there."