Pubdate: Fri, 4 Dec 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A16
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Author: William Booth, Washington Post Foreign Service
Referenced: The GAO report


MEXICO CITY -- The United States has spent a fraction of the money 
pledged -- just $24 million of $1.3 billion appropriated -- to help 
Mexico in its bloody three-year-old battle against the drug cartels 
that have turned parts of country into a war zone and left 15,000 
dead, according to a U.S. government report issued Thursday.

The Merida Initiative, signed by President George W. Bush and Mexican 
leader Felipe Calderon in 2007, promises Black Hawk helicopters, 
night-vision goggles and drug-sniffing dogs, as well as a more robust 
crime-fighting partnership between the United States and Mexico. So 
far the United States has delivered 2 percent of the equipment and 
support promised, according to the report by the Government 
Accountability Office.

The perception of a slow flow of aid has rankled some in the Calderon 
government and fueled criticism here that the United States, which 
spends billions consuming illegal drugs, is fiddling while 50,000 
Mexican soldiers and police officers are fighting in the streets to 
confront powerful criminal organizations that threaten Mexico's 
national security.

The Merida Initiative did not lay out a specific timeline for 
delivering the U.S. assistance, but the report made clear that the 
pace of spending was lagging.

"Few programs have been delivered and limited funding has been 
expended to date," GAO investigators said. They said State Department 
officials "could not tell us when they planned to deliver the 
majority of Merida goods and services."

But the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, countered that 
the GAO report creates a "misimpression." He said that the United 
States has actually spent $222 million but that "due to the 
idiosyncrasies of federal reporting and contracting," many 
up-and-running programs have not yet shown up on the books as money "spent."

For example, Pascual said, a new federal police academy that has 
graduated more than 3,000 cadets taught by U.S. instructors is not 
reflected in the GAO accounting because contractors have not 
submitted invoices yet.

Similarly, the ambassador said, next week the U.S. government will 
deliver to Mexico five new Bell helicopters worth $66 million.

Some members of Congress, however, have been frustrated by what they 
see as a sluggish pace. "As President Calderon confronts his 
country's brutal drug cartels head on, we must cut through our own 
government's red tape to get Merida Initiative assistance flowing to 
Mexico more quickly," Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the 
House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said 
upon releasing the GAO report.

This week, Calderon warned that the cartels are increasingly using 
drug money to buy off local politicians and attempting to manipulate elections.

Jeffrey Davidow, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico who is now 
president of the Institute of the Americas in San Diego, said, "I 
don't think the slowness in the outlay is any kind of indication of a 
policy failure." Instead, he said, "it is better to take the time and 
get it right."

The GAO report notes that the Merida Initiative also includes $175 
million in appropriated funds for nations in Central America and the 
Caribbean. It found that $2 million has been spent there.



The Government Accountability Office says the United States has 
delivered 2 percent of the equipment and support promised to Mexico 
to help fight drug-smuggling cartels under the Merida Initiative. The 
aid includes:

26 armored vehicles, delivered in May

5 X-ray vans, delivered in August

30 ion scanners, delivered in September

5 Bell helicopters, to be delivered in December

SOURCE: Government Accountability Office 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake