Wednesday, May 6, 2009

US Congress Seeks to Double 2009 Funding for Mexico Drug War

Updated on May 11 to include new information about the inclusion of Blackhawk helicopters in the proposed supplemental.

Confusion and Lack of Transparency Prevail in 2009 Supplemental's Mexico Funds

Yesterday Rep. Dave Obey (D-WI), Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, released a statement and a summary of the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Pandemic Flu. The supplemental includes $470 million "to address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border by supporting the Government of Mexico’s war against organized crime and drug-trafficking." This supplemental is in addition to the February 2009 Omnibus bill, a domestic supplemental funding bill that included $410 million for the Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico.

The supplemental is scheduled to be considered by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, and is likely to come before the House of Representatives in a vote sometime next week.

What is unclear from the summary of the supplemental (PDF file), Rep. Obey's statement, and President Obama's proposal for the supplemental is exactly what that $470 million will pay for. A call to the House Committee on Appropriations spokesperson provided no clarification; Narco News was told that more information on the proposal won't be available until Thursday, when the Committee considers the bill. This means that unless the Appropriations Committee decides to release more details before then, constituents will not have the information they need to effectively lobby Appropriations Committee members before they consider the $94.2 billion supplemental.

Obama's proposal, submitted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on April 9, requests $66 million under International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement "for Mexico to combat drug trafficking and organized crime." A fact sheet released by the White House says that Obama requested the $66 million for the Blackhawk helicopters that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged to the Mexican government during her recent visit to that country. While Clinton reportedly pledged two Blackhawk helicopters, USAID's justification for Obama's supplemental budget request (PDF file) says the money will be used to purchase three Blackhawks.

Obama also requested half a billion dollars under International Affairs and Stabilization Activities "for other priorities such as economic and development assistance for the people of Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Burma; security assistance for Lebanon; funding for heavy fuel oil assistance and to support nuclear dismantlement in North Korea; counterdrug/anti-crime assistance for Mexico." Obama's proposal does not specify how much of that half billion he wants earmarked for Mexico.

Upon releasing the summary of the supplemental, Obey stated, “The supplemental request the committee will consider on Thursday is fairly close to the Administration’s request. The bill totals $94.2 billion, $9.3 billion above the White House request.”

Obey's statement (PDF file) and the summary of the supplemental do not give concrete details as to what the $470 million will pay for, or even what side of the border it will be used. The summary only states that the supplemental will provide "$470 million to address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border by supporting the Government of Mexico’s war against organized crime and drug-trafficking."

Meanwhile, Obey's statement says, “In Mexico we are providing $400 million above the President for surveillance planes, helicopters, and other efforts in the war against drugs.” "Above the President" means that the Appropriations Committee says that it has alloted $400 million more than the President requested in his proposal. Obama's only concrete Mexico-specific request was the $66 million for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, which does not provide planes or helicopters.

Nowhere in the summary, the President's supplemental appropriations request, nor Obey's statement is the Merida Initiative mentioned. It is unclear if this money will be considered part of the Merida Initiative, or in addition to it. If this new money for surveillance planes and helicopters is not part of the Merida Initiative, the money will not be subject to the same Congressional oversight and paltry human rights conditions that the Merida Initiative funds are subject to.

This new money, along with February's $410 million for the Merida Initiative ($300 million of which is destined for Mexico), is being pledged despite the fact that Mexico has failed to meet the human rights conditions laid out in the Merida Initiative. Less than 15% of overall Merida Initiative funds are subject to human rights conditions. While the US government is withholding the required 15%, it seems to be more than making up for this loss by appropriating new money to Mexico's war on drugs.

If the Appropriations Committee's new supplemental really does appropriate $400 million more to Mexico than Obama requested, and if it is all destined for the Mexican government, then this supplemental would bring fiscal year 2009 funding for Mexico's war on drugs to $770 million--that is, nearly double last year's funding and over 50% more than former President George W. Bush had originally requested when he proposed the Merida Initiative.

However, again, the lack of details in the available information leave some doubt as to whether all of this money is actually for Mexico. Obama's supplemental appropriations request included $350 million for increased border militarization on the US side of the Mexico-US border. The supplemental summary states that the $470 million will be used to "address growing violence along the United States-Mexico border." This could mean could mean that at least $350 million of the $470 million will be destined for the US military on the US side of the border. At the time of publication, the House Appropriations Committee spokesperson was unable to clarify this confusion regarding on which side of the border the $470 million will fall.

Such vague language could be intentionally confusing in order to appease the Mexican government's complaints that Merida Initiative money is too little and too slow in coming. An article that ran in Mexican daily El Universal, for example, has published that Obey's statement on the supplemental specifies that all of the $470 million is destined for the Mexican government to purchase planes and helicopters, and to support other anti-drug efforts. Obey's statement never specified that all $470 million is destined for the Mexican government--though it didn't rule out the possibility, either.

However, from the little information that the US government has made public regarding its stated plans to more than double Mexico drug war funding for this year, it appears as though the $350 million is most likely (though not definitely) in addition to the $470 million mentioned in the summary of the supplemental. This is because, as Witness for Peace pointed out to Narco News, the supplemental summary states that the $470 million for Mexico will be allocated through the State Department and USAID. Obama requested that the $350 million for US-Mexico border militarization be allocated through the Defense Department.

Given the lack of clarity and transparency regarding exactly how the $470 million in Mexico drug war funding will be spent, Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy's Mexico City-based Americas Program is call on Congress to convert the Mexico drug war funds into social aid. "Mexico doesn't need more military equipment or a strongman president--it needs peaceful aid that will help create jobs, put the economy back on its feet, and provide quality health care to prevent and confront crises."

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