Pubdate: Thu, 16 Aug 2007
Source: Economist, The (UK)
Copyright: 2007 The Economist Newspaper Limited
Alert: Just Say NO To 'Plan Mexico'
Bookmark: (Plan Mexico)
Bookmark: (Mexico)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


ON TAKING office as Mexico's president last December, Felipe Calderon 
made a crackdown against drug gangs his first action. He was prompted 
by violence that has seemed to spiral out of control in the past few 
years, with hundreds of murders--and severed heads dumped in public 
places. He sent the army into nine states, announced a reform of the 
police--and began talking to the United States about an aid package.

The details are now close to being finalised. An announcement may 
come on August 20th or 21st at a meeting in Quebec between Mr 
Calderon, George Bush and Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper.

Though neither side will be keen to say so, the aid scheme is likely 
to bear some resemblance to Plan Colombia, under which the United 
States has given aid totalling some $5 billion over the past seven 
years. According to Mexico's attorney-general, Eduardo Medina Mora, 
discussions were still under way but the aid would be geared to 
equipment and training.

Ever since a 19th-century war in which Mexico lost half its territory 
to the United States, its politicians have been fiercely touchy about 
anything that smacks of foreign intervention. In Colombia several 
hundred American troops have acted as trainers and advisers, though 
they have not played a direct role in operations. American firms, 
working under contract to the State Department, have sprayed coca 
fields with weedkiller.

Mr Medina Mora stresses that Mexico will run all crime-fighting 
operations on its territory. The government is unlikely to welcome a 
visible American presence. So the aid is likely to be concentrated on 
improving the mobility and intelligence capabilities of Mexico's 
security forces, by providing aircraft, phone-tapping gear and 
training in infiltration and surveillance techniques. It may also 
include cash to supplement the miserly salaries that make it so easy 
for the traffickers to buy off provincial policemen and prosecutors 
in the often isolated areas they control.

Any aid is likely to have to be approved by the United States 
Congress, now controlled by the Democrats. They have grown 
increasingly hostile to Plan Colombia. This has indeed had little 
impact on the flow of cocaine to the United States. But it has helped 
Colombia's government to retake control of large areas of the country 
from guerrillas and paramilitaries.

In recent years Mexico's trafficking gangs have come to control much 
of the import of cocaine and methamphetamine by the United States, 
and a large chunk of its distribution north of the border. Mexicans 
note that their country is paying a high price in violence for the 
failure of drug prohibition across the border. Officials also point 
out that the Mexican victims of drug violence are often killed with 
firearms smuggled in from the United States, where slack gun laws 
make automatic weapons easy to obtain.

Mr Calderon is claiming that the crackdown is starting to have an 
effect. But a recent lull in the killings may merely be the result of 
a peace pact between the two main rival mobs, the Gulf "cartel" and 
that from the western state of Sinaloa. They are said to have agreed 
on a division of territory. Even if true, that may not end the 
violence: 13 drug-related killings were reported in a single day 
earlier this month.

Any aid package is bound to attract opposition on both sides of the 
border. Human-rights groups question the use of the army for police 
work. No amount of aid will improve matters unless Mexico's largely 
useless police forces undergo radical reform. But many Mexicans may 
reckon that Mr Calderon is right that those who consume the lion's 
share of the traffickers' product should help to pay for dealing with 
their mayhem. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake