US ambassador: US-Mexico drug war aid on track

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2009 5:28 PM

The U.S. ambassador to Mexico said Thursday that programs to provide more than $1.1 billion in equipment and training to help Mexico fight organized crime are on track.

Ambassador Carlos Pascual's comments followed the release Thursday of a government report showing only about $24 million of the aid had been spent by the end of September. Congress appropriated the first $400 million for Mexico as part of the Merida Initiative in June 2008.

Pascual said expenditures had increased several times since the report was completed and noted that five new helicopters would be delivered to Mexico in a matter of weeks.

"The snapshot showed where we were and the snapshot is very different today, it's going to be radically different in two weeks," Pascual said.

"In any program there is a necessary lead time for obtaining the resources, for executing the contracts, for producing the necessary equipment, for training the people on their use, and that's what we've been doing now," Pascual said. "And what you'll see over the course of the next year and a half is a radical change in the pace of the implementation."

The report by the Government Accountability Office blamed bureaucracy, conditions placed on the funds by Congress and preparations in recipient countries for the slow implementation of the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative. The initiative provides resources to Mexico, Central America as well as the Dominican Republic and Haiti to fight the drug war.

Mexico's Department of Foreign Relations North America Desk said in a statement to The Associated Press that "the government of Mexico is prepared, logistically and administratively, to receive that assistance and use it to strengthen our national strategy against international organized crime."

"The administration of President Felipe Calderon recognizes the commitment of U.S. President Barack Obama to speed up the delivery of equipment and training," the Thursday statement said.

When Congress approved the first $400 million installment for Mexico in June 2008, more than 4,000 people had died in drug-related violence in that country since Calderon launched an offensive against the drug cartels in December 2006. The death toll now stands at nearly 14,000.

The initiative resulted from the Merida Summit in March 2007 between then-President George W. Bush and Calderon. It was a recognition of the shared threat posed by organized crime and called for a huge funding boost spread over three years.

The funds will pay for equipment such as helicopters, non-intrusive scanners, and improved law enforcement communications networks, as well as technical training to strengthen the countries' justice systems and expand anti-gang programs.

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Associated Press Writer Mark Stevenson contributed reporting from Mexico City.