What’s This Merida Initiative And Why Are We Funding It?

Because there are foxy Mexican leaders who like it who know a deal when they see it
BY: CHIP STONE

When U.S. State Department officials were told that incoming Mexican President  Felipe Calderón was willing to fight the drug cartels, U.S. officials became giddy with relief, envisioning a winnable war and all they had to do was throw money at it. Lots of money.

Thus was born the Merida Initiative signed into law June 30, 2008. Congress appropriated nearly $2.5 billion for the battle, including 22 aircraft. Which now made Mexico giddy with prospects of new toys and lots of money.

The Mérida Initiative is a security cooperation agreement among the United States, Mexico, and the countries of Central America, with the declared aim of combating the threats of drug trafficking, transnational organized crime, and money laundering. The assistance includes training, equipment, and intelligence. And those cool 22 aircraft.

In nailing down this lucrative partnership with the United States, Mexican officials pointed out the financing for the Mexican traffickers comes from American drug consumers. U.S. law enforcement officials conceded that $12 to $15 billion per year flows from the United States to the Mexican traffickers. The Government Accountability Office and the National Drug Intelligence Center, have estimated that Mexico's cartels earn upwards of $23 billion per year in illicit drug revenue from the United States.

On December 11, 2006, newly elected President Felipe Calderón sent 6,500 federal troops to the state of Michoacán. This action is regarded as the first major retaliation made against cartel operations, and is generally viewed as the starting point of the war between the government and the drug cartels.

Many years later, after he left office, he said, “My big mistake was starting that war on drugs. Instead I should have built up the police forces at the state and local level. I never should have started a war that was unwinnable without police to fight it.”

The U.S. Congress authorized $1.6 billion for the three-year initiative (2007–2010). Congress approved $465 million in the first year, which included $400 million for Mexico and $65 million for Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. For the second year, Congress approved $300 million for Mexico and $110 million for Central America, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The bill requires that $73.5 million of the $400 million must be used for judicial reform, institution-building, human rights and rule-of-law issues. The bill specifies that 15% of Mexico’s gift will be dependent on Mexico making headway in four areas relating to human-rights issues.

Much of the funding will never leave the United States, we’re promised. It will go toward the purchase of aircraft, surveillance software, and other goods and services produced by U.S. private defense contractors. 59% of the proposed assistance will go to state and local law enforcement, and 41% to the Mexican Army and Mexican Navy.

From the program’s inception, the U.S. Congress has appropriated a total $2.8 billion to the program. Harsh criticism has been leveled at the Mérida Initiative from some U.S. lawmakers who view it as throwing money at a problem that cannot be mitigated by giving money to a corrupt government.

President Donald Trump’s planfor spending $33 billion, with $18 billion carved out for his signature border wall. This leaves the remaining $15 billion for technology, personnel, and readiness investments.

Some people are suggesting we give up on the war on drugs, an obvious failure, and pivot that money to paying the Mexicans to stay in their own country. Or more specifically, pay the armed forces to keep them here. But is that realistic when the money they send back to their families Mexico totals about $22 billion a year? No, the United States could never pay enough money to entice the government to keep their money makers home. Nor will they turn down that Merida Initiative money. The United States is destined to keep shelling out money to some very smart Mexican leaders.