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Plan Mexico details emerge

16 October 2007

From Earthwatch:

Washington – The United States on Tuesday unveiled a multi- billion dollar plan to combat the drug trade and organized crime in Mexico. The project would span over many years and include military equipment and grants of 1.5 billion dollars from Washington and 7 billion dollars from Mexico City, according to Stephen Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the western hemisphere.

“Mexico is under siege,” he said, calling the plan “relatively new, unprecedented, historic.”

While the details and figures of the plan were not yet definitive, Johnson confirmed that US aid will include helicopters, scanners for border checkpoints, training and boats for Mexico’s coast guard and navy, but would not include US troops on the ground.

“We still have to see how it develops,” Johnson said. “We are still working with Mexico to try and define better what direction it is going to take.”

Johnson said the plan also involves Central America, though he would not specify exactly what role countries in the region are expected to play.

… Mexican authorities have been adamant that the plan not include US troops on Mexican soil, and have rejected its characterization as Plan Mexico because it could bring to mind the Plan Colombia, where US forces have been active on the ground in fighting the drug trade. Johnson said US assistance presented “a historic opportunity” for closer ties with Mexico and “support a sea of changes in law enforcement.”

A couple of questionable details. I don’t see any mention of efforts to stop money laundering and gun-running FROM the United States, but only money going TO Mexico.

Mexico is spending four and a half times what the U.S. is committing. The U.S., of course, has a lot more money, but the funding suggests this is a Mexican effort, not the “joint” one we were told about.

Seven billion dollars is a huge amount of money in the Mexican budget. This looks to be all military hardware — a huge buildup (and a huge amount of funding) for the Mexican military, which has never been a budget priority within the Republic. In “real pesos” the military budget has been shrinking since 1940 — even during World War II, the Mexican government managed to cut the military budget (professionalizing the army was an excuse to get rid of the bloated officers’ corp left over from Revolutionary armies). While I defended more spending for the soldiers, I still don’t see that Mexico needs a large military, nor do most Mexicans, as far as I can tell. This just looks like a rationale for increased military spending (and for the U.S. administration to sweeten the deal for Mexican purchases of U.S. equipment — and “trainers”).

The problem with a big military is that countries use them. I can’t see narcotics traffickers as more than a short-term problem, and it seems the money (and equipment) — if necessary — are better spent on law enforcement (police, judges, prisons) than on soldiers.

Other than buying a lot of hardware (sold by whom?), I also question how other countries are being brought into this. Of course, drug exporters are likely to move to other nations. But, again, this just looks at the supply and not the demand (and does nothing to cut off the resources — guns and money — provided by the consumer country) to control the narcotics industry.

Jeremy Schwartz, in Monday’s Austin (TX) American-Statesman, wrote about Mexican skeptics:

While the military’s involvement was initially meant to be temporary, the aid plan could give it a permanent role. According to published reports, 40 percent of the money in the aid package would go to the military, and the rest would go to police agencies.

Calderón’s decision after taking office late last year to step up the military’s involvement in drug enforcement initially caused an unprecedented surge in violence. Mexico averaged almost 100 drug-related killings a week earlier this year. Dozens of police and public officials were gunned down.

The violence decreased over the summer as the nation’s two major cartels reportedly entered into a truce. Supporters called the truce, which proved short-lived, proof that the military pressure worked.

Critics said the violence had more to do with the internal workings of the cartels than with anything that Calderón’s government did. Recently, violence has spiked again.

Human rights groups say the military has committed a host of atrocities during its battle with drug traffickers. Mexico’s human rights commissioner has recommended sending the military back to its barracks, citing numerous abuses.

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