Thursday, July 22, 2010

Poor Mexico. So Far From God, So Close to the United States: The Merida Initiative Tries to Remake Mexico In America's Image

Porfirio Diaz, Mexico's president and dictator for more than three decades, was right. Mexico is too close to the United States.

Just last week, news outlets reported Mexico's first car bombing in recent memory, in the Mexican border city of Juarez, the most dangerous city in the world in a country racked by vicious drug violence. This week we also heard stories of testimony to the US Congress, that the United States under the Department of State, will increase delivery of $1.8 billion worth of expertise and materiel to fight the drug war. The U.S. promised this support to Mexico and some Central American countries, as an anti-drug effort focused on "strengthening" justice and criminal justice institutions through a bilateral agreement known as the 2007 Merida Initiative.

There's just one dampener to the glow: much of the money -- some 91 per cent -- has yet to be spent. Or at least that's how a number of news outlets reported the story. And of that nine percent, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported and summarized the difficulty of tracking exactly how the money is spent.

But even without the necessary anti-corruption and fraud controls desired by the GAO, there's a commitment to make the money flow faster. Somehow politicians and observers seem to think that more money spent in Mexico will dent the U.S.-bound supply roots and markets, and diminish the violence. It's a hazy, worrisome formula.

But what's even more troubling is the substance of what Barack Obama's Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, David T. Johnson, told Congress. He crowed to Dennis Kucinich's House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Domestic Policy about what Hillary Clinton's Department of State has achieved even without the full Merida funds.

And what has the U.S. government achieved? Not a downturn in violence in Mexico. No decrease in the power of the drug trafficking organizations, not even a reduction in Stateside demand for drugs.

Instead, a listing of what Johnson refers to as a "vital set of tools" reveals that US drug warriors are using Merida to remake Mexico into an security state favoring prohibition and akin to that of the United States.

1. "Humane corrections systems that can serve as platforms for addiction treatment..."

2. "Non-intrusive inspection equipment and K-9 training..."

3. Support for moving Mexican criminal trials from an "old inquisitorial system to an accusatory system that uses transparent oral trials and relies more heavily on physical evidence."

4. "We are working on complex money laundering investigations, asset forfeiture issues and weapons trafficking."

5. "U.S. assistance has also successfully expanded Plataforma Mexico, which provides sophisticated information technology equipment to law enforcement and judicial offices..."

6. Training by "US Federal, State, and local law enforcement for 4,300 new Federal Police investigators in investigative techniques..."

7. "In one of the more innovative programs, we are working with the U.S. states of Colorado and New Mexico to provide training and technical assistance for corrections officers, not only from Mexico, but also from Central America."

8. Promotion of "anonymous tips" in communities besieged by drug violence.

9. Drug crop elimination in "key drug source countries."

There's no indication that pushing such reforms further will weaken the drug cartels. Even after three years of the Merida Initiative, and four years into Mexico's drug war, the death toll ticks, steadily upward, irrespective of the designs of the Washington policy apparatus.

Poor Mexico. Poor Mexico, indeed.

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