$500 million for Mexico riles Congress; anti-drug money in war bill
Lawmakers from both parties criticized the Bush administration Nov. 14 for not consulting Congress before adding more than $500 million in emergency anti-narcotics aid for Mexico to a pending $196 billion war-funding package.
The congressmen said they were deliberately eliminated from oversight of the plan to help Mexico purchase military equipment and other law-enforcement tools to combat escalating drug violence.
“This administration believes it has a monopoly of wisdom,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, California Democrat, at a hearing.
“I also find it disturbing that the administration did not involve its co-equal branch of government, the United States Congress, in developing this initiative.”
President Bush first discussed the aid package with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in March, but the administration did not announce the program until last month.
The $550 million grant — known as the Merida Initiative — would assist Mexico and Cen- tral America in combating the growing problem of narcotics trafficking and violence.
Mexico would receive $500 million and Central America $50 million,
Nearly half of the proposed $500 million grant pays for military equipment, including six Bell 412 helicopters and two Casa 245 twin-engine aircraft.
In previous years, Mexico typically received about $45 million in counternarcotics aid.
“This is an important mo- ment in the fight against transnational drug trafficking and organized crime,” Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon, fo r the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told the committee.
“President Bush recognized that the United States has an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the economic and human toll in our cities and towns emanating from cross-border organized crime.”
David T. Johnson, assistant sec- retary of state with the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, warned of growing security threats that the aid would address.
“We are confronting vulnerabilities posed from the increasingly violent nature of the secur ity situation in Mexico and Central Amer ica that if left unchecked could [open the door] for more dangerous threats to emerge,” he said. The panel was not reassured. “I’m always concerned about efforts like this with Mexico because it’s hard to tell where the government of Mexico ends and the drug cartels begin,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, who has made his outspoken support of enhanced border security a cornerstone of his presidential bid.