Merida Initiative

Calderón to Meet with Obama

March 2, 2011

by AQ Online

Mexican President Felipe Calderón arrives in Washington DC today for an official visit with President Obama and U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner.   Calderón’s visit begins with a meeting with leaders of the business community and media on Wednesday, followed by meetings tomorrow with President Obama at the White House and a meeting with Speaker Boehner later in the day.  On his agenda, Calderón is expected to discuss key issues including trade relations, immigration concerns, continued support for the Merída Initiative, and security. 

Mexican legislators have pressed Calderón to specifically address the issue of arms trafficking as a chief concern for Mexico following the death of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jamie Zapata on a northern Mexico highway.  Although Calderón's visit was planned some time ago, the recent death of agent Zapata has highlighted the security concerns and violence spreading from the border region to other parts of Mexico.  Investigation into the death of agent Zapata found that the gun used in his murder was obtained in the U.S. and illegally smuggled into Mexico.  Jesús Ortega, president of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), affirmed that Calderón must address the need for the Obama administration to do more to stem the flow of illegal arms into Mexico in comments made to Mexico’s El Universal.  Other issues causing friction are the anti-immigrant laws passing through several U.S. states, money laundering, and allegations made in recently leaked cables.

At stake during this visit is also continued funding of the Merida Initiative anti-drug aid plan.  Calderón is expected to express Mexico’s need for continued support of the initiative to Speaker Boehner, even as the U.S. Congress attempts to cut back on spending. 

Calderón’s two-day trip will conclude with a forum discussion on Thursday afternoon hosted by the Americas Society and Council of the Americas and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where he will discuss the current political and economic situation in Mexico.

Tags: Merida Initiative, Felipe Calderon, President Obama, drug violence in Mexico

Powerful Cartel Leader Arrested in Monterrey

June 10, 2010

by AQ Online

Security forces in Mexico yesterday captured and took into custody Héctor Raúl Luna Luna, an alleged leader of the violent drug cartel known as Los Zetas. Luna Luna, also known as El Tori, was captured during a military operation in Ciudad Solidaridad, a neighborhood in Monterrey, in northern Mexico.

In the wake of the arrest, gunmen temporarily set up at least ten narcobloqueos (roadblocks by drug gangs), in Monterrey using cars and stolen buses to block traffic. Attacks on police stations have also been reported. 

Los Zetas are notorious for a failed 2008 grenade attack on the U.S. consulate in Monterrey, carried out in collaboration with the Gulf Cartel. (Explore our Spring 2010 AQ map of narco-networks in the Americas for more about the Mexican cartels).

The U.S. has committed $1.6 billion in security assistance through the Mérida Initiative, which includes helicopters and police training, but during President Calderón’s visit last month to Washington, DC, he appealed to Congress for a different kind of help. “There is one area where Mexico needs your help,” Calderón said, “that is stopping the flow of assault weapons and other deadly weapons across the border.”

Tags: Merida Initiative, Drug Cartel, President Felipe Calderon, Los Zetas

After Pacification: The Social Aspect of Controlling Crime

May 18, 2010

by Christopher Sabatini

Asserting the democratic rule of law and recovering social peace is a difficult task, especially in places like Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and Colombia’s one-time, crime-ridden cities and war-torn countryside. Democratic and sustainable crime control means establishing state control in places where it has never been present or where it was lost long ago. It also means more than just plopping down an occupying, even pacifying force. Establishing and maintaining peace requires developing a state that can deliver services to local populations.

My recent trip and discussions with police, policymakers and experts on this theme in Rio have reminded me this is no easy task.

The term “failed state” has become a fashionable term to describe countries like Somalia, Afghanistan and Haiti, but we also now know that there can be pockets of state failure elsewhere. While not as broad, dangerous or deep as those countries teetering on the edge of anarchy, pockets of failed states suffer from the same need: to develop the institutional and physical infrastructure to integrate deprived communities into the nation state and the legal market economy.

For the last two days I’ve been traveling with a group of security experts to observe and discuss with Sérgio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro, the state’s security plan to prepare for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Among the group were former NYC Police Commissioner and LAPD Chief William Bratton and his colleague (and AQ co-author) Bill Andrews, former Vice President of Costa Rica and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Kevin Casas Zamora, local civil society, private-sector leaders, and the leadership of the newly created “pacification police” (policia pacificadora), or as their local units on the ground are called, UPPs. The latter is a police force created by Governor Cabral that serves as local beat cops in the crime-ridden favelas.

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Tags: Merida Initiative, security in Brazil, favelas in Brazil, U.S. narcotics policy, Latin America crime.

Merida II: A New Phase in U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation

March 29, 2010

by Dora Beszterczey

Responding to a growing sense that the military-led fight against drug trafficking organizations has failed to curb violence across our southern border, the United States and Mexico formally announced a shift in their counter-narcotics strategy last week. The “new stage” in bilateral cooperation will aim to strengthen civilian law enforcement institutions and rebuild communities crippled by poverty and crime.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico City last Tuesday with a delegation that included the top U.S. military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and top officials from the DEA, Justice Department, border security, and other agencies. Their visit marked the second high-level consultation meeting under the auspices of the Merida Initiative. (The meeting had been planned for months, but it took on greater urgency in the aftermath of the killing of three people—including two U.S. citizens—with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.)

The meeting laid the foundations for the second phase of the Merida Initiative. The first phase, launched in 2008, was designed to spend $1.12 billion to battle organized crime in Mexico through the provision of military hardware and training for police officers, judges, prosecutors and public defenders. However, as turf war violence escalated across a string of border cities, the 45,000 troops deployed onto Mexico’s streets increasingly became the visible face of Calderón’s strategy—and frontloaded Merida with military assistance.

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Tags: Merida Initiative, Drug Cartels in Mexico, President Felipe Calderon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

Ripe for Creative Engagement: U.S. Policy in the Americas

March 22, 2010

by Arturo Valenzuela

The first months of 2010 have shown, in multiple and unexpected ways, the courage, resilience, and solidarity of the citizens of the Americas.  Faced first with a devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12, the countries and people of the region rallied around a neighbor that had suffered a terrible tragedy.  The outpouring of support and feeling was as broad and spontaneous as if any other of our nations had been directly hit by the earthquake.  Then, on February 27, Chile was struck with an earthquake of historic proportions just two weeks before Chilean citizens inaugurated a new President.  When the Secretary met with then-President Bachelet, and then-President-elect Piñera on March 2, she spoke for our entire country when she expressed profound sorrow at the tragedy and the tremendous respect and admiration for the way the Chilean nation responded.

In my blog on March 13, I wrote about Secretary Clinton’s six country trip to the region.  It was a great honor to accompany the Secretary.  With each leader and citizen we met, our deep and personal engagement with our neighbors in the region was apparent.  Given how much is at stake in the western hemisphere right now, I was pleased to have the opportunity to  testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on March 10—and share  with Members  of Congress my perspectives on our relationships with countries of the region and what we want to accomplish together.

I talked about efforts by the United States and the international community to build back Haiti, including the Haiti donors’ conference coming up on at the end of this month at the United Nations.  This includes the ministerial-level International Donors’ Conference that the United States, in cooperation with the Haitian government, will co-host on March 31, 2010 in New York at UN headquarters.  The conference “Towards a New Future for Haiti” has been in the works essentially since the hours after the earthquake hit.  We all knew that building back Haiti better would require enormous and sustained support from partners around the world.  Over the last eight weeks since the quake struck Port-au-Prince, international relief efforts on the ground have been incredible.  In spite of this, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go to provide the Haitian people with the living conditions, economic, and educational opportunities they deserve.  The March 31 conference is just one step in mobilizing the broad international support that the government and people of Haiti must have in order to realize their vision of a stronger, vibrant Haiti emerging from this tragedy.

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Tags: Michelle Bachelet, Organization of American States, Merida Initiative, Sebastian Piñera, Arturo Valenzuela, Ciudad Juárez, Haiti Earthquake, Chile Earthquake, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Pathways to Prosperity Initiative

Proposed Cuts in U.S. Aid to Latin America Reflect Changing Priorities

February 2, 2010

by AQ Online

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget plan for fiscal year 2011 would decrease aid to Latin America by nearly 10 percent, mostly by cutting military and police support. Released on Monday, the plan—a blueprint of the president’s budget priorities that will now be debated in Congress—calls for economic development aid in the region to stay about the same, while aid for health programs would increase.  Obama’s budget proposal increases overall spending by the State Department, with much of the proposed increase going toward programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Colombia and Mexico, currently the largest recipients of U.S. aid in Latin America, would receive less funding in 2011 under Obama’s plan.  Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew said the cuts represent the Plan Colombia and Merida Initiatives moving on to less costly phases.  Most of the helicopters the U.S. promised Mexico to help counter drug cartels under the Merida Initiative, for example, have already been purchased.  Colombian Minister of Defense Gabriel Silva, however, plans to ask U.S. congressional leaders to maintain support for Plan Colombia when he travels to Washington on Monday.

The Obama plan would cut aid specified to combat drug trafficking by $16 million, especially in Colombia, although anti-narcotics programs across the region would still receive $690 million in 2011.  Assistance directed toward Latin American development initiatives would essentially remain constant with 2010 funding, with $736 million allocated for programs such as alternative agriculture techniques, judicial reform in Colombia and support for Cuban civil society.

Cutting aid to Colombia, calling for greater parity between military and development spending, and increasing aid to Central America were also priorities reflected by  the Obama administration in its 2010 budget requests

Tags: Merida Initiative, Obama Latin America policy, Plan Colombia, Foreign Aid

Weekly News Roundup from Across the Americas

July 15, 2009

by AS-COA Online

From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

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Mediated Talks on Honduras to Resume; Zelaya Calls for Insurrection

Talks between the deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the interim government ended in Costa Rica with little progress on July 10. Since then, Costa Rican President Óscar Arias announced talks would resume later this week and Zelaya said that, should he not gain reinstatement this weekend, he would consider the dialogue a failure. He also called on Hondurans to engage in an insurrection.

The Christian Science Monitor interviewed COA's Eric Farnsworth, who described the call for an uprising as "a colossal mistake." Moreover, in a debate on a National Jounal Experts blog, Farnsworth writes: “The real story is not the overthrow of Zelaya in Honduras…[but] where the hemisphere itself has been as nation after nation has elected leaders who then use the institutions of democracy to attempt to perpetuate themselves in power.”

The Wall Street Journal puts the Honduran crisis in context in a multimedia look at the history of caudillos. Considering both sides of the coup, the main article states: “In the eyes of the international community Roberto Micheletti took charge through an old-fashioned coup,” but “In Mr. Micheletti’s take on the events, it was his government who avoided another, slow-motion coup by Mr. Zelaya himself.”

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Tags: Chile, Peru, Canada, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Immigration, Honduras, Merida Initiative, Argentina, Elections, Drug war, Swine Flu, Iran

Daily Focus: U.S. Congress Approves Funding for War Against Drugs in Mexico

May 8, 2009

by AQ Online

The U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations, approved a supplemental appropriation of $470 million toward the Mérida Initiative yesterday. These funds will pay for three surveillance airplanes and four Blackhawk helicopters that will reinforce anti-narcotics operations.

President Obama submitted a request for $66 million for the two Blackhawk helicopters that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to the Mexican government during her recent visit to the country. The funding approved by the Committee on Appropriations represents an increase of $404 million over the amount initially requested by the White House. Congress increased the amount insisting on the urgency to address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border by supporting the government’s war against organized crime and drug-trafficking

Two weeks ago, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies approved a new law that will allow greater power to authorities and expediency in confiscating assets from criminal organizations.

Tags: Mexico, Narcotics, Merida Initiative, U.S