$500 mil­lion for Mex­ico riles Congress; anti-drug money in war bill

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Sara A. Carter

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.

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