The “Mérida Initiative” is a multi-billion dollar effort by the United States government to assist Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean in their fight against drug trafficking organizations. Proposed under President Bush and implemented under President Obama, the program has provided close to $1.8 billion in assistance to the region to date. About $1.5 billion has gone to Mexico, $300 million to Central America and $40 million to the Caribbean.
In some ways, the initiative mirrors U.S. efforts to aid Colombia through what became known as “Plan Colombia”. The money for the Isthmus region and Caribbean basin goes mostly for equipment and military hardware, and police and judicial training to deal with the increasingly violent and sophisticated drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). These DTOs frequently have better weapons and intelligence gathering equipment than their counterparts in the state and undermine law enforcement efforts by corrupting vast sections of the regional governments.
However, critics, which include the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO), have said the initiative’s money has been slow to arrive and represents a small portion of what is needed. This is particularly true of Central American nations, which do not have the resources or training to face to the growing presence of largely Mexican DTOs in their territory.
The initiative has also come under attack by watchdog groups for its emphasis on the enforcement component of the strategy. Most of the aid has gone to the Mexican army and police who are fighting the DTOs. The Mexican army’s growing role in the battle in Mexico has come under particular scrutiny due to allegations of human rights abuses by that institution. But while allegations of abuses have risen, accountability has not followed. Human Rights groups say military courts have not prosecuted any member of the military for abuses.The Obama administration appears to be aware of these criticisms and concerns. In its proposal for FY2011 funding, which officials dubbed “Beyond Mérida,” the administration created a four-pillar strategy, which includes (1) disrupting the flow of drugs; (2) reforming the judicial system in Mexico; (3) creating a “21st Century border”; and (4) strengthening communities. Of the $310 million that would go to Mexico, $175 million would go toward justice reform. The proposal needs the approval of congress, which is likely to include a similarly large package of aid outside the auspices of Mérida to border protection.Resources
- “U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond,” Congressional Research Service, 29 July 2010. (pdf)
- “Combating Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking in Mexico: What are the U.S. and Mexico Strategies? Are They Working?,” John Bailey, Working Paper Series on U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation, May 2010. (pdf)
- “Uniform Impunity,” Human Rights Watch, 29 April 2009.
- Just the Facts, a project that monitors, analyzes U.S. spending in Latin America. Run by Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washhington Office on Latin America.
- “Backgrounder: NAFTA’s Economic Impact,” The Council on Foreign Relations, 7 July 2009 (last updated).