As gang violence flares in Mexico and concerns rise on both sides of the border over Mexico's stability, a debate is intensifying over a Bush administration aid package to the Mexican government.
The concerns come as 10 drug-related killings were reported across Mexico last week. It's the latest episode in an alarming uptick of violence as drug cartels battle for control of the world's largest narcotics market, Agence France-Presse reports.
Ten people were found shot execution-style in 24 hours of drug-related warfare in northern Mexico, the Juarez prosecutor's office said Wednesday.
Seven federal police officers were killed in Culiacán during a gun battle with three men working for a drug cartel, the police said.
The officers were the latest victims in a conflict between the cartels and the police that has claimed the lives of more than 30 federal agents and 170 local police officers in the last 18 months.
Many on both sides of the border are beginning to wonder if the stability of the Mexican state is at stake – and with it, the national security of the United States, The Washington Post columnist Neal Peirce wrote in an editorial.
"This could have a snowball effect, even leading to the risk of ungovernability," Mexico City sociologist Luis Astorga told The Washington Post.
Talk about a national security issue for the United States! We share a 2,000-mile border with Mexico; it's our second-largest trade partner, especially huge in agriculture. Millions of families are related across the border; thousands of Mexicans regularly cross over for work.
The Mexican newspaper, Reforma, says this week that a "majority of Mexicans believe the government is losing its escalating battle against drug gangs, according to a poll published Sunday, reports the Associated Press.
"Some 53 percent of Mexicans surveyed by the Mexico City newspaper Reforma said cartels are defeating security forces engaged in a nationwide crackdown. Only 24 percent said the government is winning, and 23 percent had no opinion."
Although the United States has spent hundreds of million of dollars since 2000 trying to stem the flow of illegal narcotics, only a small percentage of those narcotics are seized every year. Violence meanwhile has skyrocketed, an editorial in the Arizona Central newspaper contends.
Since 2000, the United States has provided $397 million to help Mexico fight drugs, according to a Government Accountability Office report dated August 2007. The GAO estimates that an average of 275 metric tons of cocaine has arrived in Mexico every year since 2000 for transshipment to the United States. Only about 36 metric tons per year is seized.
Nearly 19 metric tons of what the GAO calls "export quality" heroin is produced in Mexico each year, but less than 1 metric ton is seized. A whopping 9,400 metric tons of export-quality marijuana is produced in Mexico each year, with only about 2,700 metric tons seized each year.
Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006 and began going after the cartels, 4,152 people have died in drug-related violence, including 450 police, prosecutors and soldiers.
The explosion in Mexico's violence has prompted the Bush administration to push Congress to approve a $1.4 billion aid package for Mexico, the Associated Press reports.
President George W. Bush has used a wave of violence in Mexico to push for Congressional approval of the first US$500 million installment of the multiyear aid proposal.
But the U.S. Senate approved only US$450 million for the plan, and the House US$461.5 million. The two chambers must agree on a final version before sending it back to Bush for approval.
The Merida Initiative would provide helicopters, planes, computer systems and police dogs. But the Congressional versions would impose several conditions on the aid, including guarantees of civilian investigations into human rights abuses by the Mexican military."
The conditions stem from concerns over corruption, as The Washington Post editorial points out.
"But there's substantial congressional skepticism about aid that could flow to the notoriously unaccountable, often corrupt, Mexican military and police forces. And then the tough, basic question: Realistically, how much could U.S. aid of roughly $500 million a year do to stem the gargantuan illegal drug trade that now flows across the Mexican border — about $23 billion a year by U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates?