The state of U.S.-Mexican relations was the main course at last Wednesday’s Table Talk Lunch Series sponsored by the Office of the University Chaplain.
Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Eric Jacobstein, a staffer on the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, shared their thoughts on the Merida Initiative, a multiyear American aid package that will provide equipment and training to support law enforcement operations and technical assistance for long-term reform and oversight of Latin American security agencies, primarily in Mexico.
The more than $1 billion package is designed to help combat drug trafficking and related violence, which in recent years has spiraled out of control in Mexico. This year has seen more than 4,000 drug-related killings in the country.
“It seems like every day you pick up the paper and see these gruesome killings,” Jacobstein said at the Kay Spiritual Life Center. “It’s become the most dangerous place in Latin America to be a journalist. Twenty-eight have been killed this year. Given this context, I think it was obvious to President Bush and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle that something had to be done.”
The problem is not just a Mexican one. The United States is the number one drug consuming nation in the world, and 90 percent of guns confiscated by drug traffickers in Mexico come from north of the border. Moreover, drug-related violence has spilled into Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and other states.
“Mexico is suffering from a lot of unintended consequences of U.S. policy,” Meyer said. “The U.S. was very effective in closing off Florida from cocaine importers from South America in the ’80s and ’90s. Now 90 percent of the cocaine in the U.S. comes through Mexico. The DEA has done so well in closing down meth labs in the U.S., they’ve driven them down to Mexico.”
WOLA would like to see more of the aid package—none of which has been spent yet— go toward judicial and institutional reforms and less toward helicopters, planes, and technology. The Mexican military, Meyer said, has a dismal human rights record and shouldn’t be involved with counterdrug operations.
“There is $160 million in the aid package for the military we feel should be eliminated and put toward strengthening the police force,” she said.
News reports of the drug killings have become so prevalent they’re beginning to impact Mexico’s tourism, Meyer said. While eliminating the flow of drugs from the country into the United States is a pipe dream, using the Merida Initiative to spark judicial reform and reduce gang and drug-related violence is a realistic goal.
“It will be a success if it looks more like a security package than a counterdrug policy,” she said.