Pubdate: Fri, 4 Dec 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: A34
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Ken Ellingwood, Reporting from Mexico City
Referenced: The GAO report
Bookmark: (Mexico Under Siege (Series))

Mexico Under Siege


Only a Small Amount Has Been Delivered. A Report Blames Red Tape.

Security help for Mexico promised under the so-called Merida 
Initiative, including helicopters and scanners for contraband 
detection, has been held up by red tape, a U.S. agency says.

By Ken Ellingwood, Reporting from Mexico City

A small fraction of U.S. aid for Mexico's drug war under the 
so-called Merida Initiative has been delivered because of red tape 
and the time needed to order helicopters and other equipment, a U.S. 
government report concluded Thursday.

An examination by the Government Accountability Office said that just 
$26 million had been spent by the end of September, or 2% of the 
nearly $1.3 billion in security aid that had been appropriated for 
Mexico under the multiyear program.

The GAO, Congress' investigative arm, said delays also stemmed from 
congressional restrictions and the need to ready Mexican and U.S. 
agencies for a big jump in the flow of bilateral assistance.

Because of the delays, "few programs have been delivered and limited 
funding has been expended to date," the report said.

Mexican officials, locked in a bloody three-year offensive against 
drug cartels, have complained that the promised U.S. help, including 
Bell helicopters and scanners that detect contraband hidden in cargo 
trucks, has been too slow to reach them.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton promised during a 
visit here in March to speed up delivery of the equipment. The GAO 
report said her push succeeded in trimming the time required to 
obtain the aircraft. Five Bell BH-412 helicopters are scheduled to 
arrive later this month.

So far this year, the U.S. has supplied 26 armored vehicles, 30 
scanners and five vans outfitted with X-ray technology. Still on 
order, the report said, are an unspecified number of Black Hawk 
helicopters, which generally take 12 to 18 months to build, the agency said.

Then-President George W. Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon 
announced the Merida plan in October 2007, 10 months after Calderon 
launched his government's military-led crackdown on drug gangs.

The aid package, reflecting a huge boost in U.S. security assistance 
for Mexico, includes vehicles, computer equipment and training for 
police, court personnel and jailers. The aim is to bolster the 
Mexican government's ability to fight organized crime, but also to 
improve the judicial system and improve rule of law overall.

Thursday's report prompted calls in Washington for more urgent action 
to help Mexico.

"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," said 
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Foreign 
Affairs Committee's subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

The GAO cited congressional requirements, such as human rights 
conditions added last year that withheld 15% of funds until the State 
Department certified that Mexico was investigating and prosecuting 
abuses. The department issued the finding despite persistent 
complaints of abuses by Mexican troops and an opaque system of prosecution.

It also took time to hire employees at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico 
City and at recipient Mexican agencies to manage a sevenfold increase 
in aid, the GAO report said.

The State Department acknowledged that spending had not been as quick 
as planned, but said that didn't tell the whole story. The department 
said Merida aid was being put to robust use, such as the training 
this year of thousands of Mexican federal police officers. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake