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Inklings of a ‘Plan Mexico’

Prepared by: Stephanie Hanson
August 9, 2007

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While Congress debates the renewal of Plan Colombia, a counternarcotics package that has cost $5 billion since 2000, the Bush administration and the Mexican government have been quietly negotiating their own drug-fighting partnership. Dubbed “Plan Mexico” (WashPost) by some, the agreement could be announced as soon as August 20, when President Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderon meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Quebec. The United States currently gives about $40 million in antidrug assistance to Mexico. Details of the proposed plan are scant, but it is expected to involve hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement agencies have long been suspicious of one another, and such a large agreement would represent an unprecedented partnership for both parties.

Since taking office in December, Calderon has launched an aggressive crackdown on drug trafficking in Mexico, sending roughly thirty thousand federal troops into nine states. Thus far, violence and the drug trade have not abated; the number of drug-related deaths this year is set to surpass last year’s 2,100 fatalities. The public overwhelmingly approves of Calderon’s troop deployment, but as this Backgrounder discusses, long-term progress may hinge on Mexico’s ability to significantly reform its police and judiciary.

Whether the plan under negotiation will support such reforms remains to be seen. Plan Colombia, as a point of comparison, focuses on crop eradication and aerial interdiction. Mexico’s primary challenge is drug transit, not cultivation. News reports indicate the proposed agreement would expand existing areas of U.S.-Mexico cooperation: technological support and training. Some of these measures have already been implemented. For instance, the U.S. government paid for a $3 million wiretapping system (LAT) in Mexico that began operation in May. And the United States has stepped up cooperation on curbing the flow of illegal weapons (CSMonitor) into Mexico.

A proposed play might encounter resistance on both sides of the border. Mexico has traditionally balked at accepting U.S. help to counter drug trafficking. And a counternarcotics package for Mexico modeled on the framework of Plan Colombia could meet with skepticism among the U.S. legislators who must fund such an initiative. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the subcommittee that puts together spending for Plan Colombia, recently cited a lack of “measurable effect on the amount of cocaine entering our country.” The U.S. government says Plan Colombia has reduced cocaine production and increased drug seizures, but experts such as Adam Isacson at the Center for International Policy argue that the street price of cocaine in the United States remains stable (PBS), and that the purity of the drug has increased. According to the 2007 UN Drug Report, interdiction has slightly decreased the availability of cocaine in the United States since 1998.

But concern over the large volume of drugs transiting into the United States from neighboring Mexico—including roughly 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States, according to State Department estimates—could generate congressional support for a new bilateral anti-trafficking initiative. Roger F. Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, argues in an essay for the American Enterprise Institute: “Now that Mexico is apparently prepared to accept unprecedented levels of collaboration, we must embrace it as an opportunity to forge a genuine partnership.”

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