Op-Eds

The Merida Initiative

By Congressman Henry Cuellar

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Washington, December 31, 2007 | Mindy Casso ((956)725-0639) | comments

As a life-long resident of Laredo, Texas, a city with the population of about 200,000 that borders the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo, I grew up understanding the economic impact of a healthy relationship between the United States and our southern border neighbor, Mexico.

The billions of dollars that are brought into the United States from trade and tourism is money the United States and border cities throughout the U.S. have come to depend on.  From jobs to economic development, having a healthy relationship is vital to numerous communities along the border as it is to the United States as a whole. 

Because of this, we must do what we can to protect our investments and our future.  And as with any investment, we must act quickly when we see matters take a turn for the worse.  Over the past decade, organized criminal activity and cross border gang violence has escalated to unprecedented levels. Drug trafficking is at an all-time high with the fight over power between organized syndicated groups causing a surge of violence spilling over onto American soil.  The levels of violence on both sides of the border now require urgent action on the part of all nations involved.  Our own national security is on the line at the expense of human lives and economic impact.

For these reasons, we must support the Merida Initiative.

The Merida Initiative is a regional security cooperation among the United States, Mexico and the countries of Central America.

President Bush has asked for $550 million for the Merida Initiative in the supplemental budget request; $500 million of that funding would go to Mexico as the first tranche of what we hope will be a $1.4 billion multi-year security cooperation commitment, with $50 million targeting Central America. 

In comparison, between 2000-2006, United States Counter Narcotics Activities totaled $396.6 million dollars.

If Congress approves the Merida Initiative, the United States government will make a significant financial commitment in giving the Mexican government the tools they need to aggressively pursue strategies to fight cross-border violence and break the back of crime syndicates that are crippling the Mexican people, their governmental bodies, and their economy.

Failing to support Mexican President Felipe Calderon at a time when he needs us most is not acceptable.  The Mexican government cannot reach its full economic potential and create the level of economic sustainability necessary to support the Nation and move forward in becoming a substantial contributing economic partner in the world’s economy.

But let me be very clear, President Calderon is not asking for a handout—but a hand up.  To emphasize this, the Mexican government has pledge $2.5 billion dollars to address the issues outlined in the Merida Initiative.  The Mexican Congress has already passed legislation supporting President Calderon’s efforts in fighting drug trafficking and criminal organizations.

They’ve launched aggressive counter-narcotics efforts in 10 Mexican States, increased pay for military and federal law enforcement agents, and in cooperation with the United States, have extradited 73 of Mexico’s hardest criminals to the U.S. for prosecution.

Meanwhile, President Calderon has invested his political career on regaining public security and law and order in Mexico.  He has put his life on the line to defeat organized crime.

But again, the Merida Initiative is not an aid package but a joint cooperative strategy between the two nations.  This is a historical initiative designed to combat the threats of drug trafficking, trans-national crime, and terrorism in the Western Hemisphere.

With this Initiative, fears of giving money to the Mexican Government without accountability are reduced to satisfactory levels.  With the $2.5 billion dollar investment from the Mexican government, President Calderon will be held accountable and has pledged his commitment. 

Included in the Merida Initiative are new advanced security equipment and training for Mexican law enforcement, plans for drug demand reduction programs in the U.S., new counter-narcotics plans and technologies for the Southwest U.S. border,  and plans to reduce arms trafficking.

Now is the time to act.  Violence in Mexico has spilled over onto U.S. soil and we must do what we can to stop the problem at the root.  Our neighbor is calling on our help and we must support them quickly.  It’s a matter of economic importance.  We realize that drug trafficking and criminal organizations do not respect physical boundaries, but working with our neighbors, we can help confront the problem together.

To make the Merida Initiative work, we will maintain oversight and accountability.  But most importantly, we must place the value of human life above all politics.  We will win this war against drug trafficking and organized crime, we only need to work together at the root of the problem before it prevails.  Our future and that of our children is at stake.

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