*Dialogue on Hemispheric Security in preparation for the Mérida Initiative*
On May 29-31, 2008, nine Mexican Congressmen from the National Defense, Foreign Affairs and Maritime Committees of Mexico's Federal Chamber of Deputies (Cámara Federal de Diputados) attended the Mexico Senior Legislative Leaders Seminar at United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This unique one-day seminar was hosted by USNORTHCOM in partnership with the Political Section of the United States Embassy Mexico City (USEMBMX), United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), and the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS), National Defense University.
The purpose of this one-day Seminar was to familiarize Mexican legislators from all three political parties (PAN, PRI, PRD) with USNORTHCOM and USSOUTHCOM as well as to emphasize the strong collaborative partnership with Mexico that is critical to both North American and Hemispheric Security. Mexican Congressmen were given the opportunity to ask frank questions to General Victor Renuart Jr., Commander, USNORTHCOM and Admiral James G. Stavridis, Commander, USSOUTHCOM on the U.S. – Mexico bi-national defense and security relationship in preparation for the Mérida Initiative.
The Mérida Initiative is a $1.6 billion dollar, 3-year package of anti-drug assistance to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean that was signed by President Bush into law on June 30, 2008 as part of the Iraq Supplemental Funding Bill. The FY08 Supplemental Funding bill includes approximately $400 million for Mexico with $116.5 million earmarked for Mexico's Armed Forces.
Upon arriving at USNORTHCOM Headquarters, the Mexican Congressional delegation received a warm welcome from General Renuart, CDRUSNORTHCOM who emphasized that “the relationship between our two militaries is the best that it has ever been.” General Renuart personally presented the NORAD – USNORTHCOM Bi-Command Brief and frankly answered questions from the Mexican Congressmen regarding the Mérida Initiative, arms crossing the border into Mexico, and U.S. media coverage of Mexico's war on drugs. He commented that the United States has had some successs interdicting weapons from crossing the border into Mexico which has included working in concert with border states of New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona as well as the Mexican military to arrest four arms dealers.
Emphasizing the strong collaborative partnership with USNORTHCOM, ADM Stavridis, CDUSSOUTHCOM personally presented the USSOUTHCOM command brief and stated that his Combatant Command was responsible for U.S. military contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for South America, Central America and the Caribbean. ADM Starvidis discussed the common security threats that affect Mexico and Latin America such as organized crime, drug trafficking, gang violence, public security, migration, and inequality. He stated that the number one problem in Latin America is poverty, and that the illegal dealings with drugs is a symptom of poverty. ADM Stavridis pointed out that the U.S. demand for drugs is a cause for the problems that Mexico is having with drug trafficking. Gen Renuart acknowledged that point as well.
In response, Mexican Congressmen José Edmundo Ramírez Martínez, PRI (Hildalgo) agreed with ADM Stavridis that poverty is the top reason behind the issue of migration. “The number one problem is poverty – inequality – it creates other problems (such as) lack of opportunity, migration,” he explained. “For this reason, Mexican Congressional leaders are working on new legislation to address migration.” Congressmen Ramírez noted that illegal immigrants are not criminals in the traditional definition of the word. “One is only a criminal if he commits a crime,” he said. He emphasized the tragic fact that for every two deportations, one child is left abandoned.
After a short break, the Mexican Congressmen received a NORAD-USNORTHCOM (N-NC) Threat Briefing from Mr. Mike Noll, Director of Intelligence. Mr. Noll noted that “In general, Western Hemisphere nations are committed to a peaceful cooexistence.” From an intelligence point of view, he stressed to the Mexican legislators the notion of sharing different perspectives on bi-national issues. “I think the word ‘perspectives' is important because you have different perspectives from different people on different things and it is useful to compare those things,” Noll said. “Sharing this difference in our perspectives can be vital for intelligence purposes”. General Renuart supported his comments by stating "Our, USNORTHCOM, intent is to continue to collaborate and coordinate" with Mexico.
In response, Mexican Congressmen Marco Antonio Peyrot Solis, PAN (Hidalgo) agreed with the need to improve the cooperation between our countries. However, he emphasized the difference between talk and action. “There is a difference between the message of saying we need to improve and doing the action of improving cooperation,” Congressmen Peyrot stated. He urged leaders to do the latter.
Next, the Mexican legislators received a briefing from Mr. Jim Castle, Deputy Director of the Interagency Coordination Directorate who stated that “No single department in our government has the capability to respond to a disaster, whether manmade or natural.” He stressed the need for “interagency coordination, not just international cooperation”.
The Mexico Senior Legislative Leaders Seminar concluded with a briefing by Dr. Richard D. Downie, Director on the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS), National Defense University (NDU), a key strategic educational outreach institution for the Western Hemisphere supporting the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the regions two Combatant Commands – USNORTHCOM and USSOUTHCOM. The CHDS mission is to conduct education, research, outreach and knowledge sharing activities with civilian and military leaders of the Western Hemisphere that will foster partnerships and advance hemispheric defense and security. Dr. Downie stressed how CHDS is an important example of how nations in the Western Hemisphere can work together and build relationships. “(It) provides an academic forum where all countries of the Americas can discuss the issues, challenges that affect them.”
General Renuart thanked the Mexican Congressional delegation for their frank and open discussions and stated that “We should all be proud. We have grown together in ways that are historic.” Following the morning seminar, the Mexican Congressmen were given a tour of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station concluding a successful Mexican Legislative Leaders Seminar.
Dr. Benjamin P. Gochman is a defense contractor and the Mexico Desk Officer, NC/J59 International Affairs Division, United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). Dr. Gochman also teaches graduate courses on Homeland Defense and International Security at the Korbel School of International Relations, University of Denver.