Alexandra Olson, AP, May 29, 2008
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson urged U.S. lawmakers Thursday to resolve their differences over an aid package to help Mexico fight drugs, saying it would be “disastrous” for security on both sides of the border if the Merida Initiative fell through.
U.S. President George W. Bush has used a wave of violence in Mexico to push for Congressional approval of the first US$500 million installment of the multiyear aid proposal.
But the U.S. Senate approved only US$450 million for the plan, and the House US$461.5 million. The two chambers must agree on a final version before sending it back to Bush for approval.
Richardson said Mexican President Felipe Calderon deserved support in his aggressive fight against drug cartels, including deploying 25,000 troops to hotspots across the country. He said Mexico was in critical need of more resources for that fight, noting a string of attacks against police that have left several top commanders dead.
The Merida Initiative would provide helicopters, planes, computer systems and police dogs. But the Congressional versions would impose several conditions on the aid, including guarantees of civilian investigations into human rights abuses by the Mexican military.
Calderon has called the conditions an intrusion on Mexican sovereignty, and Attorney General Eduardo Medina said last week Mexico would wait until the plan is approved before deciding whether to accept the aid.
Despite Calderon’s crackdown, violence has made an unprecedented surge in Mexico. Cartels have responded with increasingly bold attacks against police and other security officials. Homicides related to organized crime have jumped 47 percent so far this year: 1,378 deaths compared with 940 in the same period last year.
Calderon said the root of the problem was demand for drugs in the U.S. and called for more to be done about it.
Despite Mexico’s relentless violence, the U.S. governors offered staunch support for Calderon.
“Calderon is a great leader,” said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “We would like to congratulate him for the courage that he has to stand up against the drug lords and to fight them.”