As of May 15, the two chambers of the U.S. Congress were far from reconciled as to appropriations for Mexico as part of the Merida Initiative, the planned 3-year, $1.6 billion aid package to supply Mexico – along with Central American and Caribbean countries –with surveillance equipment, training, and information technology. To date, Congress has released $700 million to Mexico as part of the package, with the federal Attorney General’s Office receiving the largest share. On May 15, the Mexican government received 8 armored vehicles as part of the aid package to help protect federal police agents during counter-narcotics operations.
On May 15, the House of Representatives approved an additional $470 million as part of a supplemental spending bill to continue funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which also earmarks aid for the Pakistani government to help in its struggles with the Taliban. The appropriations would in part supply Mexico with four Blackhawk helicopters, and three additional surveillance aircraft. For its part, the Senate only approved $66 million to supply Mexico with two additional Blackhawk helicopters promised by Pres. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during their visits to the country.
Pres. Obama has included an additional $550 million for the Merida Initiative in his 2010 budget proposal, $450 million of which would be destined for Mexico, accompanied by $27 billion for border and transportation security, an 8 percent increase over this year.
In the U.S. Congress, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman has introduced an appropriations authorization bill for the State Department’s 2010 and 2011 budget that seeks to define a number of requirements for the executive branch to ensure appropriate application of Merida Initiative funds. The bill requires that the president designate a Coordinator of United States Government Activities to Implement the Merida Initiative responsible for overall strategy design, coordinating all involved U.S. agencies and participating nations, and coordinating with U.S. law enforcement authorities regarding border security. The bill also expresses intent to direct more money to Caribbean countries, citing recent rises in murder rates in the region. Aside from expressing a need to establish clear, research-based methods for measuring the success of resource allocations and requiring the president to report annual progress to congressional committees, the bill also requires annual reports of human rights impacts of Merida Initiative assistance in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974. The bill also requires assurance that the Mexican Federal Registry of Police Personnel serves its purpose of preventing rehiring from one police force to another after an officer has been dismissed for “corruption or other reasons.” Finally, the bill requires detailed reporting on contracts awarded to private companies under the umbrella of the Merida Initiative, details on the phasing out of armed forces’ participation in law enforcement activities in recipient countries, and impact reports on border violence and security.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee was scheduled to take up the authorization bill on Wednesday, May 20. While the authorization is far yet from reaching approval in Congress, it reflects human rights and accountability concerns voiced by many Democrats from both chambers since Pres. Bush first introduced the proposal in late 2007.
Gorman, Anna and Peter Nicholas. “Obama budget puts security first at the border.” Los Angeles Times May 6, 2009.
Brooks, David. “Condicionará el Congreso de EU los recursos de Iniciativa Mérida.” Vanguardia May 16, 2009.