Mexican President Felipe Calderón is locked in a valiant
fight against narco-traffickers, proving his commitment by
extraditing to U.S. courts and prisons powerful Mexican drug
kingpins and politicians, as well as seizing large amounts of drugs
and drug cash. He and President Bush recently announced the $1.4
billion "Mérida Initiative," a joint U.S.- Mexico program to
further the fight. The plan has many anti-corruption safeguards and
"end-use monitoring" provisions. It provides aircraft, equipment,
software, and training that is badly needed by military, judicial,
and law enforcement officials in Mexico. The initiative will
improve the effectiveness of both governments in the battle against
drug traffickers along the U.S.-Mexican border.
At Last, U.S. Has a Full Mexican
Since taking office in December 2006, President Calderón
has bravely taken on well-funded narco-traffickers who had before
been operating with impunity. His country has faced mounting mayhem
by the ruthless and heavily-armed gangs and growing domestic drug
use. So far, Mexico has seen more than 2,000 drug-related homicides
in 2007, including 250 police officers.
In a series of breakthrough decisions unprecedented in the
history of U.S.-Mexico relations, Calderón has demonstrated
his commitment to being a sincere partner in the joint fight
against a foe as formidable as global terrorists. His government
has extradited to the United States powerful Mexican drug kingpins,
including Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix,and will soon extradite a
former governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo convicted of
drug trafficking. He has dispatched more than 40,000 soldiers
into 10 Mexican states to support the out-gunned police. So far in
2007, Mexican authorities have seized more than 40 tons of cocaine.
With a street value of more than $400 million, it represents about
25 percent of all drug seizures worldwide this year. Mexico has
also "initiated unprecedented controls in the supply of pseudo
ephedrine [crystal meth]."
These moves have shown results: Supplies of cocaine and crystal
meth in the United States have dropped, and prices have gone up.
Calderón has also shown guts in seizing drug money; more
than $200 million in cash was confiscated from a Mexico City
basement last summer.
Unlike his 2006 election opponent, leftist Andrés Manuel
López Obrador (whom he narrowly defeated), Calderón
is committed to democracy and to continued prosperity in a
globalizing, modern Mexico. His margin of victory came from the
growing Mexican middle class, which has benefited from
modernization. The Mexican people are sick of drug lords and
corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. The message to Calderón
was clear: Work with the Americans and solve this problem once and
for all. In Felipe Calderón, Mexican voters have a
president--serious, purposeful, and businesslike--who accepts full
responsibility for problems in his country without resorting to
demagogic diatribes against the United States. President Bush has
responded in kind, acknowledging U.S. responsibility for reducing
demand for illicit drugs and stopping the flow of weapons and drug
cash from the United Stated to Mexico.
Bipartisan Support in the U.S.
This week, both the House and Senate will hold hearings on the
Bush Administration's request for $1.4 billion over the next three
years to fund the Mérida Initiative. It commands
considerable bipartisan support, especially from House members of
both parties that represent districts along the border. Some in
Congress grumbled about a lack of advanced consultations prior to
announcement of the program; the Bush Administration responds that
it did not want to send preliminary details to Congress before
final agreement with Mexico.
Skeptics and fatalists are already balking and can be expected
to cite past failures. However, the mid-1990s Clinton
Administration effort to equip Mexico to fight the drug war was
poorly thought out, and the Vietnam-era Army surplus that was sent
to Mexico (with no accompanying training and maintenance) was
eventually returned to the United States.
Not a "Plan Mexico"
The Mérida Initiative's bland name was chosen to avoid
comparisons with "Plan Colombia" and to deny Calderón's
opponents--such as López Obrador and other Hugo
Chávez sympathizers--the chance to assert that the United
States is attempting to diminish Mexico's sovereignty.
While Plan Colombia has not reduced production of cocaine as
much as envisioned, it has been instrumental in stabilizing that
country. Chavistas and leftists in Colombia have criticized their
government for permitting U.S. military operations in Colombia. No
such operations are foreseen under the Merida Initiative. Mexico
faces no serious insurgency. It controls its national territory and
has considerable capability to respond to security threats. Merida
is the capital of Yucatan, a major transit point for drugs going
through Mexico to the United States. Roughly 90 percent of all
cocaine consumed in the United States transits through Mexico.
Begin with Good Equipment, Software,
The Initiative starts with $550 million in the fiscal year 2008
war supplemental appropriations bill. Mexico would receive $500
million, mostly for eight Bell transport helicopters and two
surveillance aircraft similar to those used by the U.S. Coast
Guard. Training and maintenance would be included, and the
agreement allows "end-use-monitoring" by the United States to
prevent misuse of these assets (again, an unprecedented concession
from a Mexican government). Other big-ticket items include ion
scanners, night vision goggles, and non-intrusive inspection
The agreement places considerable emphasis on data management,
software programs, and secure communications for processing of drug
intelligence. The package also provides training for forensics,
polygraph testing, and human rights training. These provisions
would help Mexico tighten internal security, guard against
corruption, and modernize law enforcement practices.
Also included is $50 million for countries in the Central
American Free Trade Agreement to fight against the violent gangs
and drug-traffickers that threaten the very life blood of, and
undercut security and progress among, America's trading
A Win for Calderón is a Win for the U.S. and a
Setback for Chávez
The United States has a major stake in the success of the
Calderón Administration. With $1.1 billion in daily
bilateral trade, Mexico is the United States' second largest
trading partner and its fourth-largest oil supplier. The
total value of U.S. investment in Mexico exceeds $66 billion.
Turning a cold shoulder on the counter-narcotics issue would send
the wrong signal to the new administration and the Mexican
López Obrador and Hugo Chávez would love to see
the Merida Initiative defeated. They know that drug cartels and
illicit drugs undermine stability in Mexico and weaken the United
States. U.S. policymakers should expect opposition from the far
left, including moveon.org, Chavista types, and Soros-funded
supporters of drug legalization.
The Mérida Initiative is no panacea. There will be no
lightning victory; drug cartels will fight back with characteristic
ruthlessness; certain areas of cooperation will be thorny. The
battle is on Mexico's turf; no U.S. drug enforcement agents or
military boots should be on the ground. To guard against corruption
and abuse, adequate benchmarks and safeguards for transparency and
accountability must be included.
Furthermore, passage of the initiative will not resolve other
complex bi-national issues, which range from immigration and border
control to water rights and protection of the environment. However,
the initiative can improve the climate for ongoing discussions.
The drug war is as real as any war elsewhere in the world.
People are being killed daily, U.S. national security is
threatened, the spill-over effects degrade border security, and
both governments are damaged by the corrupting influences of drug
money. Mexico will be safer for these measures, and so will the
The administrations of Mexican President Felipe Calderón
and U.S. President George W. Bush should push forward--as equal
partners--with their unprecedented and outstanding level of
cooperation in the war against narco-terrorists along the
U.S.-Mexican border. The current proposal presents a genuine window
of opportunity to expand this partnership. The legislative branches
of both the Mexican and U.S. governments should provide the
resources needed to launch the Merida Initiative.
Ray Walser, Ph.D., is Senior Policy
Analyst for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center
for Foreign Policy Studies and James M. Roberts is Research Fellow
for Economic Freedom and Growth in the Center for International
Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.
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U.S. Methamphetamine, Cocaine Markets Price of Meth Soars 73
Percent; Purity Down by Nearly a Third," (press release), November
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(November 13, 2007).
Laurence Iliff, "Calderon: Drug
Battle Is Working: In His First State of the Union, President Says
Fight Only Beginning," The Dallas Morning News (Texas),
September 3, 2007.
American Petroleum Institute, "Estimated Crude
and Products Imports to the U.S. from Leading Supplier Countries"
(Source: DOE, Petroleum Supply Monthly, October
2007), November 14, 2007, at www.api.org/statistics/upload/Statimports1114.pdf
(November 14, 2007).