Wednesday, November 19, 2008

US Releases $90 million in Plan Mexico Military Hardware and Training

Sources within the US Congress have confirmed to Narco News that the US government has released approximately USD$90 million of the $116.5 million in foreign military financing (FMF) under Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative or Plan Merida. The $90 million comprises approximately 77% of Mexico's total FMF allotment under Plan Mexico in 2008.

The US Congress authorized the release of up to 85%, or $99 million, of 2008 FMF funds pending a report from the Secretary of State on Mexico's compliance with the human rights conditions laid out in Plan Mexico. However, congressional sources state that Mexico has not yet met the human rights conditions, so the State Department has not submitted the report.

The human rights conditions are minimal--they requite the establishment of a commission to receive complaints about police conduct, that the Mexican government regularly meet with Mexican human rights organizations so that they can "make recommendations concerning the implementation of" Plan Mexico (thereby excluding from the consultations any NGOs that oppose the military aid package), that civilian prosecutors and judges investigate and prosecute federal police and military forces who are accused of committing human rights abuses, and that evidence obtained through torture not be used in court.

This last point will be particularly difficult for the Secretary of State to certify given that the Mexican weekly Proceso revealed this month that the three suspects arrested by the Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) in the Morelia, Michoacan, "narcoterrorist" grenade attack case were tortured by a drug cartel or Mexican security forces into saying they were members of the Los Zetas criminal organization and that they threw the grenades that killed eight people on Mexico's Independence Day. Official memos leaked to Proceso from an unidentified intelligence agency confirm that security authorities in Michoacan met with representatives from the La Familia drug cartel prior to the arrests "agreeing that they would detain various people" and accuse them of carrying out the Morelia attack. One theory that competes with the official hypothesis that Los Zetas carried out the Morelia attack is that La Familia carried out the attack in order to provoke a military crackdown on Los Zetas, who have been running contraband through La Familia's turf.

Military Hardware

The Defense Department’s Security Cooperation Agency, which administers the FMF program, defines Foreign Military Financing as “the U.S. government program for financing through grants or loans the acquisition of U.S. military articles, services, and training.”

At this time it is unknown what military hardware the $90 million purchased and what hardware is still pending the release of the human rights report. However, the Plan Mexico spending plan, which Narco News published in September, outlines how the 2008 FMF will be spent.

According to the spending plan, FMF funding will provide up to two CASA 235 aircraft. The spending plan states: “In addition to up to two aircraft, the package provided will include logistics support (primarily spare parts and limited technical support) for three years. Funding will also support transition training (training for experienced pilots to fly a new type of aircraft) for Mexican pilots.” CASA 235 planes have the ability to use night vision equipment, two computers to transmit and receive information from a military base or control center, and room for 57 soldiers with all of their equipment or 48 parachutists. CASA 235s can also carry six anti-ship missiles and two MK46 torpedoes or Exocet M-39 anti-ship missiles.

Mexico will also receive up to five BH-412 EP (Bell Helicopter) medium-lift utility helicopters along with a logistics support package for two years for new aircraft and possibly four Mexico-owned helicopters already in service. This includes training for pilots. BH-412s are designed to rapidly deploy military forces, which, according to the spending plan, will “establish security needed for successful interdiction of arms, drugs, and persons.” BH-412s carry 1-2 crewmembers and 13-14 soldiers and are equipped for day and night flight.

FMF funding will also refurbish and completely equip two Cessna Citation II C-550 surveillance aircraft for the Mexican Office of the Attorney General (PGR). Cessna Citations have radar and cameras. They can be outfitted with weapons and often are when they’re used in the war on drugs. In 2001, Cessna Citations provided by the US government and piloted by Peruvian pilots under the direction of CIA agents killed a US missionary and her baby in Peru when they were mistaken for drug traffickers.

Plan Mexico will provide an undetermined number of ion scanners “to support the efforts of the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) and Mexican Army/Air Force (SEDENA) to control their national territory and the southern approach to the United States.” The ion scanners come with a standard maintenance package. The spending plan notes that they’re “capable of detecting both explosives and narcotics” and will be “used by SEDENA to help detect illicit drug and arms trafficking through remote areas of Mexico and will support the GOM’s [government of Mexico’s] effort to mount a robust interdiction system via land routes.” Ion scanners analyze the size of molecules to test for the presence of drugs. They are meant to provide a preliminary assessment: a positive test result does not confirm the presence of drugs, but should trigger a more thorough inspection. Ion scanners are known to produce more false positives than true positives and are widely abused by prison authorities in the US to harass prison visitors by denying them access.

This is the first year in recent memory that Mexico will receive FMF funds from the United States. Up until now, Mexico was cut off from receiving US military assistance because it is a party to the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Under US law, countries who are parties to the Rome Statute can only receive US military aid if they enter into an Article 98 agreement in which they promise to not prosecute US citizens in the ICC. Mexico has not entered into an Article 98 agreement, but the law banning parties to the Rome Statute contains a loophole: the president can waive the law, allowing the country to receive FMF, if he deems it to be in the US' "national interest."

More Armament

According to the spending plan, Mexico will also receive armored vehicles, bulletproof vests, and related “technical assistance” provided under Plan Mexico’s anti-narcotics section. These funds, however, are pending the signing of a letter of agreement between the US and Mexican governments. The letter of agreement outlines how the Plan Mexico training and equipment will be transferred. El Financiero reports that Condoleezza Rice's Mexican counterpart, Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, believes the letter of agreement will be finalized and signed this week.
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