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Homeland Security

Merida Initiative

By 2010 the United States was involved in three wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and the southwest border. Every day the US battled Mexican drug cartels that smuggled up to $25 billion of illegal drugs as well as people into the US, and illegal guns and drug money back into Mexico. The Mexican cartels dominate drug trafficking into the US. They are sophisticated, ruthless, and well-funded. They operate widely in Mexico through bribery and corruption, paramilitary force, murder, and intimidation. In 2009 drug violence in Mexico resulted in over 6,500 murders.

The four primary goals of the Mérida Initiative are to (1) break the power and impunity of criminal organizations; (2) strengthen border, air, and maritime controls; (3) improve the capacity of justice systems in the region; and (4) curtail gang activity and diminish the demand for drugs in the region.

Since the 1970s, the United States has collaborated with Mexican authorities and provided assistance to Mexico for counternarcotics programs and activities. Similarly, U.S. military and law enforcement agencies have provided assistance to Central American countries to combat drug trafficking through the region. The goal over the years has been to disrupt the operations of drug traffickers, making it more difficult for traffickers to produce and transport illicit drugs to the United States.

Since assuming power in December 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has made the war on drugs a centerpiece of his administration, mobilizing the Mexican military and law enforcement in a series of large-scale counternarcotics operations throughout the country. These efforts have targeted areas, particularly along the U.S.-Mexican border, where DTOs have exerted most influence. The Mexican government's efforts to disrupt drug trafficking operations have generated increased violence against law enforcement and other security forces, and appears to have intensified conflicts among DTOs over access to lucrative trafficking routes to the United States. The result has been a record-breaking escalation of drug-related assassinations, kidnappings, and other violent crimes over the past 3 years.

Recognizing the threat posed by mounting criminal violence, at the Mérida Summit held in March 2007, Presidents George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón agreed on the need to expand bilateral and regional cooperation to combat crime in the region. The result was the development of the Mérida Initiative, a multiyear security assistance package for Mexico and Central America.

Violence along the US-Mexico border has escalated in recent years because of drug trafficking and related organized crime activities, with over 12,000 fatalities since 2006. At the same time, gang activity in Central America has increased, further fueling the violence within the region. In an effort to confront the challenges posed by criminal violence, in October 2007, the United States and Mexico announced the Mérida Initiative, a $1.4 billion counternarcotics and anticrime assistance package for countries in the region.

The Mérida Initiative brings a shift in both scale and scope to U.S. assistance to the region, particularly Mexico. For example, under Mérida, the average annual counternarcotics and related law enforcement assistance to Mexico increased from about $57 million from 2000 through 2006 to $400 million for fiscal year 2008. Similarly, collaboration between the United States and Mexico has intensified, providing an unprecedented opportunity to address the mutual threat of drug trafficking and organized crime affecting the region.

The US State Deparment funds Mérida Initiative activities primarily from three appropriations accounts. As of September 30, 2009, State had planned to provide nearly $1.3 billion in appropriated funds to the initiative. According to information provided by State, about two-thirds, or approximately $830 million, had been obligated by the end of September, and about 2 percent, or $26 million, had been expended. Several factors have affected the timing of the Mérida funding process and the delivery of assistance to Mexico and Central America: (1) statutory conditions on the funds, (2) challenges in fulfilling administrative procedures, and (3) the need to enhance institutional capacity on the part of both recipient countries and the United States to implement the assistance.

Funding for Mérida Initiative programs is derived from three appropriations -- the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) account, the Economic Support Fund (ESF), and the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) account.

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funds will support the development of the government of Mexico's (GOM) institutional capacity to detect and interdict illicit drugs, explosives and weapons, trafficked/smuggled persons, and individuals seeking to enter the United States to conduct criminal activities. For example, INCLE funds will be used to acquire three Black Hawk helicopters for Mexico's civilian Public Security Secretariat (SSP) to improve air capacity to deploy federal police agents quickly. INCLE funds will also be used to expand and modernize information system capacity. For instance, INCLE funding will be used to improve inspection and security systems for key mail facilities, provide secure communications for law enforcement agencies, and enhance data management and analysis capabilities of the Mexican intelligence service (CISEN). Furthermore, INCLE will be used to purchase mobile nonintrusive inspection equipment to improve overall law enforcement infrastructure.

Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds will be used to improve surveillance and land and maritime interdictions. FMF funds will purchase up to four CASA 235 maritime patrol aircraft, up to five Black Hawk helicopters, and up to eight Bell Helicopters to support efforts of the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) and Mexican Army/Air Force (SEDENA) to control their national territory. Funding for the aircraft also includes transition training (training for experienced pilots to fly a new type of aircraft) for Mexican pilots, and initial spare parts and maintenance packages. FMF funds will also purchase ion scanners to help detect illicit drug and arms trafficking through remote areas of Mexico and support GOM's effort to mount effective interdiction operations on land routes.

Economic Support Fund (ESF) funds will be used to promote rule of law and human rights by supporting Mexico's justice sector reforms and respect for human rights. For example, to assist in implementing the justice sector reforms, ESF funding will support professional peer exchanges between Mexican and U.S. judges at the federal and state levels. Funding will also support technical assistance to help Mexican prosecutors' offices as they implement justice sector reforms at the state and federal levels. In addition, funding will provide training and technical support to justice sector personnel (judges, prosecutors, and public defenders) and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to expand the use of alternative case resolutions such as first offender's programs, mediation, and restorative justice. Moreover, funding will provide training to human rights NGOs and civil society on the code of criminal procedures, as well as on international, regional, and national laws protecting human rights in order to build NGO capacity to properly monitor and document human rights violations.

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