US Releases $214 Million To Aid Mexico Drug Fight
By Dialogo September 02, 2009The U.S. has released $214 million of an aid package to help Mexico fight drug trafficking, including funds for five helicopters for the military to be delivered by year's end, a top State Department official said. The helicopters will be the first to be sent to Mexico under the Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.4 billion program to train and equip law enforcement to deal with the ruthless cartels, said David Johnson, U.S. assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement. He said $214 million of the package has been spent or committed. The funds have gone to training Mexican federal investigators and providing technology such as X-ray machines to check for contraband at border crossings. "We greatly admire the strong efforts made by the government of Mexico ... to confront the extreme rise in violence fueled by drugs," Johnson told reporters during a visit to Mexico to discuss the Merida Initiative with officials. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama's administration sent to Congress a favorable report on Mexico's human rights record that could allow the release of an additional $100 million in aid. Washington has conditioned 15 percent of the Merida Initiative on assurances that Mexico makes progress in combatting corruption and rights abuses. In early August, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, delayed the release of the State Department report over concerns of torture and other abuse allegations against the Mexican military. International rights group have also urged the Obama administration to withhold Merida Initiative funds, saying Mexico has done little to investigate alleged abuse. But the U.S. report defended Mexico, saying the government of President Felipe Calderon "has embarked on a major effort to reform and overhaul its justice system." Johnson said the United States is helping Mexico improve its internal systems for preventing and rooting out corruption in law enforcement, including lie-detector tests and continuous checks on officials. He also made clear the Obama administration has no intention on passing judgment on a new Mexican law that eliminates jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and even heroine, LSD and methamphetamine. "We've studiously avoided commenting on that," Johnson said. "There is a clear commitment by Mexico to confronting" drug gangs "and that is what we are focused on," he said. Calderon has made fighting Mexican drug cartels, which are responsible for the vast majority of cocaine smuggled to the United States from South America, a cornerstone of his administration. He has sent tens of thousands of soldiers to drug hotspots across Mexico, and federal authorities have arrested hundreds of police officers and other officials — including top members of Calderon's own administration — for alleged ties to cartels. However, drug gang violence surged, claiming more than 13,500 lives since Calderon took office in December 2006. Drug cartels have lashed back at the crackdown, killing more than 1,000 police and soldiers. Calderon defended his efforts in a report submitted to Mexico's Congress on Tuesday, insisting no other Mexican government has taken on the cartels frontally. The report said his government has seized 90 tons of cocaine, 5,000 tons of marijuana and some 50,000 illegal weapons. It also said authorities have detained more than 80,000 people linked to organized crime, although it did not specify how many were part of the drug trade. Mexico also has a major problem with kidnapping and other criminal gangs. It has been "an effort never before seen in Mexico," the report said of the crackdown on cartels.