U.S. Security Assistance to Mexico: A View From the Hill
As Mexico continues to struggle with the effects of illegal activity within and along its border region, evidenced by dramatic growth in drug-related violence, join U.S. Representative Kay Granger for a congressional perspective on the status of U.S. security assistance to Mexico and policy options moving forward.
ANDREW D. SELEE: We are pleased to have Congresswoman Granger with us. Let me start with one item of housekeeping. If you make sure that your cell phone is turned off, not just on silent or on a buzzer or vibrate but actually turned off because it can interfere with the AV system.
Let me also mention this meeting is on the record. There are a couple of journalists in the room with us today.
I don't think it's a mystery to anyone in this room that Mexico is important for the United States. It's a country that we share a 2,000-mile border with. It's a second destination for U.S. exports, the second source of U.S. oil. It is a source of almost a third of immigration to the United States and almost one in ten Americans is of Mexican descent. It is a country with which we are deeply intertwined, interlinked and interdependent.
It is also not a mystery to anyone in this room that it's also a country under stress, that we've seen over the past couple of years a significant rise in drug-related violence, over 6,000 drug-related murders last year. This is something that is driven by several factors at the moment, but the underlying factor is something that ties us together.
The U.S. is the largest consumer market for illegal narcotics in the world, and Mexico is a country with weak rule of law which has increasingly become the largest transit point for narcotics in the Western Hemisphere.
This is, fortunately, a crisis that has brought our two countries together in many ways. We've begun talking about ways that we can work together to deal with organized crime tied to drug trafficking. The Merida Initiative, which the congresswoman is deeply involved with and will be speaking about, among other things, has been appropriated about $1.4 billion to Mexico in efforts in Mexico to build rule of law, to develop law enforcement, to build technology and equipment to deal with these issues.
We've also seen an increase in collaboration on border security, on institution building, intelligence sharing and a variety of efforts to make both countries safer.
Let me just say again that this is an issue that ties us together. In the end, we are the largest consumer market. Mexico is the largest transit country. And we are both concerned about spill-over violence. I mean, this is something -- when you see, in Ciudad Juarez, 2,000 murders in a year, it's something that people in El Paso and in Texas worry about. They can worry about whether this is going to happen on the U.S. side, and Mexicans also worry about -- we were just talking about this -- the fact that a number of the gangs involved in the killings in Ciudad Juarez are, fact, U.S.-based gangs like the Barrio Azecta.
The leader of one of the largest cartels, as we were reminded last week when we were in Mexico is, in fact, an American citizen, the guy who is affectionately known by his peers as "Barbie" because of his blonde hair.
So spill-over violence is a very real situation in both directions and something that concerns us.
Congresswoman Kay Granger is a wonderful person to talk about this. She began her career as a member of the city council and then three-time mayor of Fort Worth, Texas. She was elected to Congress in 1996 and has developed a diversified foreign policy portfolio and become a leader on foreign affairs for her North Texas district which relies heavily on global relationships.
And I often say that Dallas and Fort Worth are border cities even though they're actually very far from the border, but very much connected to Mexico as well as to the rest of the world.
Congresswoman Granger is the senior Republican on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Foreign Ops, which oversees all funding for the State Department and foreign assistance. Everyone knows how important that is. And she also is a board member of IRI, a commissioner for CSIS, an adviser for the National Endowment for Democracy.
We have a full biography for her.
We're going to take a few minutes, ask her a few questions, and then we will open it up to the full group here.
And, Congresswoman, thank you for being here this morning at the Council on Foreign Relations. And let's start by talking about if you can tell us why you think this is an important issue. Why should the U.S. care about what happens in Mexico? Most of the violence is on the Mexican side.
REPRESENTATIVE KAY GRANGER (R-TX): Well, first of all, it's our neighbor, and we want our neighbor to be safe, and, also have a secure economy. Neither of that occurs right now. So I'd say that first.
The relationship between Mexico and the United States, of course, is obvious and long term. And so as this violence and this drug trafficking has moved into Mexico, I came in -- when I came to Congress, I worked on Plan Colombia and took many trips to Colombia and saw the work, the cooperation that we had there that helped turn Colombia around.
Mexico is closer to us, many more ties, and certainly, deserves our attention and our help. It also -- Andrew and I were talking about it -- it also has improved the relationship between the United States and Mexico to see that we are sincerely cooperating and trying to be helpful.
SELEE: What do you think the impact of the Merida Initiative has been? It was initially controversial, but it seems to have developed broad bipartisan support. What impact has it had --
GRANGER: It has. It's nearly $1.4 billion, most of which has been appropriated. It was controversial at the beginning. It now has good bipartisan support because we continually explain what it is. In this escalating war with the cartels, the drug traffickers, about half of it has gone toward equipment, policing, but a lot of it now -- most of it had gone to the military. Now in this last tranche, it is more toward the police and police resources.
But it also has provided for community development, exchanges like police training, and some cross-border exchanges having to do with medical help. But we really are supplying the equipment and the help at Mexico's northern border to turn things around in this crisis.
SELEE: What could be done to improve it? I mean, you've raised some concerns in the past.
GRANGER: Our job in the subcommittee that I'm on is to appropriate the funds in response -- and this has been very important -- not what we say Mexico needs, what Mexico says what they need as we meet together and fund this. Our job is to pass the appropriate funding. And when they say they need Blackhawk helicopters, which is the number-one issue -- and it was in Colombia also -- to make sure that that is funded.
The problem we've had now is getting it on the ground. So we can meet in all the committees we want to and say, yes, we fund it. This is how many helicopters, this is the sensors that are needed, this is the police training. The problem we're having is saying, so why isn't it on the ground?
And I'm going to quote Secretary Gates who said what we're dealing with is, "my house is on fire and the fire truck will arrive in 2012." And that is not acceptable. So I find my job now saying, why isn't it on the ground? Where is the hold up? And ensuring that that occurs -- that they get the --
SELEE: Do you see that moving forward? Do you think this is going to be solved? Or is this a --
GRANGER: After the meeting we had yesterday, I think it should be solved. We were very explicit in what occurs. And when I say "we," I'm talking about Nita Lowey, who is the chairwoman of the subcommittee. I'm the ranking member. And we met together.
And I would say to you, for those who think bipartisanship does not occur in Washington, it does on our subcommittee. We cooperate very well. We have great respect for each other. And so this was certainly a joint effort. We made it very clear that we were watching this, and we knew where the holdup was and expected that to be much more appropriately handled and to report to us because part of our job is oversight.
SELEE: How would you rate the U.S.-Mexico cooperation on these issues? I mean, if we go back 5 or 10 years, it would have been almost impossible to be talking about a security relationship together.
GRANGER: Right. It was difficult, very difficult at first because there was such mistrust. Part of what we did early on is we also worked with Colombia, and President Uribe sort of interceded and said they really are here to help because here's the help that the United States gave Colombia. Here is the kind of help, listening to what was needed there, letting us take, of course, the lead, being Colombia, and being very responsive.
It has truly improved, and we were there -- Mrs. Lowey and I and members of the subcommittee were in Mexico last year meeting with President Calderon and others that were involved and saying, what is needed, is this working? I talked to the ambassador, and did just recently, in saying what else is needed, are we on the right track, is there a new strategy, how can we help with the new strategy?
And I think the cooperation is much, much better than it was five years ago.
SELEE: Let's talk about the new strategy. They've been talk about a four-pillar strategy that looks at taking on drug trafficking organizations, building rule of law, border security, and strengthening communities.
How do you rate the strategy? Does this have a chance of success?
GRANGER: It does have a chance of success. I hope the Mexican people -- it's hard to be patient when you're living in a community where a bunch of thugs drive by a teenage party and just open fire and kill 14 people that have nothing to do with gang activity or drugs.
Now, we watched that in Iraq. At some point, people said enough is enough; we don't want to live in this kind of environment. The Mexican people -- not overall -- the violence is occurring in the north, and there are parts of Mexico that are absolutely safe. And the most violent areas, they're very weary, and they're also very frightened.
When you have a town of 30,000 people and drug traffickers leave a note and say you have 30 days to get out of here or we'll kill you and your family and, oh, by the way, we know where your family lives in the United States, and you know they'll do it, then there's a very different environment.
I hope that there will be enough patience for this strategy to work. There's a change. Most of the strategy had to do with the military, and most of the funding and equipment went to the military. There is now a shift to the police having to do with a lot of things, primarily, the justice system in Mexico and what can be most effective.
And there are restrictions on if you're captured by the military, if you confess to the military, what can be used in courts. The court system in Mexico really needs to be revamped. And I was talking to Andrew about the first conversation I had with that was with Vicente Fox when he was running for president. I had some ties there and met with him several times. And that needs to be revamped.
That's a long-term change, and I hope that that change will be made. The other change in strategy had to do with community development and cross-border exchanges. I've had several people -- and they did this when I was in Mexico -- say we're really using the same counterterrorism strategy that we use in Iraq and Afghanistan, because that's the same sort of thing. How do you build infrastructure while you're fighting the bad guys and trying to put them through the courts and put them in prison? And how do you build a community? And that has to do with some of the police training, courts system changes that need to occur.
SELEE: What do you see could be, you know, warning signs in the future? I mean, is there anything that could really get in the way of cooperation and this moving forward and even the debate on Merida on the Hill?
GRANGER: Immigration. I don't think we're going to have an immigration bill this year. I could be wrong, but I don't think we are going to be. But as you know, as that immigration -- as we move toward that, the rhetoric becomes extreme in many cases, and that has hurt our relationship with Mexico and other countries.
But that could get in the way unless it's handled in a more cooperative, bipartisan and realistic way.
SELEE: What about -- within the Merida Initiative, there is some conditionality on human rights. About 15 percent of the aid is conditional. Do you feel comfortable that those conditions are being met? And do you have concerns --
GRANGER: They are. We all have concerns and, right now, a helicopter is being held up. We've delivered the ones that we have approved with the exception of one -- one helicopter being held up by Senator Leahy having to do with human rights.
And there are concerns. As the military takes action and takes the lead, abuses, arrests. Like I say, their system is very different from ours, and there have been reports of people being kept and people beaten as prisoners. There's always that concern.
We hope it's being addressed. In that case, it really has to be addressed by Mexico.
SELEE: Let's talk about border security a little bit. I mean, in the end, though Fort Worth is in your district, it is a ways from the border, it is part of the greater border region, and Texas certainly is. To what extent is there a real concern that some of the violence that we're seeing in Mexico could spill over into places like El Paso but also places like Fort Worth and Dallas?
GRANGER: There's a very realistic concern that the violence will spill over. You've got the drug traffickers, the cartels. And then you've got these gangs, the Barrio Azteca gang is the one that's credited with the most violence, as many as half of the deaths in Juarez; Juarez being talked about as one of the most violent cities in the world today, right across the border from El Paso, Texas.
And that was a Texas prison gang originally. They will -- have confessed that they will kill for as little as $100. And so that violence absolutely could spill over.
It hasn't so much right now, but the murder of an Arizona rancher found on his ranch close to the border sent great concerns. And so it's something to pay attention to and one of the reasons that we're so involved. The gangs can move with relative ease across the border.
My experience as mayor -- and I was mayor of Fort Worth for three terms. And my experience then -- our economy was severely changed due to defense downsizing. We have in Fort Worth, Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter, a base that was closed. Lockheed laid off 20,000 people in a little over two years, a huge, huge strike to our economy.
At the same time, crime went up dramatically. And we were taken by surprise -- should not have been, but were. When we looked at our crime in Fort Worth, Texas, we found that we had a very serious gang problem. Put together a gang task force and identified 240 identified gangs in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the highest crime rates in the nation at that time.
So I'm probably more aware than some others of gangs. Not all of those gangs were violent gangs or even had criminal activities. They were identified gangs. So to understand the gang situation is something for us to be aware of. And that's where the violence can spill over.
SELEE: What can we do on the U.S. side? Obviously, at Foreign Ops, you have responsibility for Merida -- as far as the foreign aid side -- but as someone who knows the U.S. side very well, what can we do on border security? What can we do on sharing intelligence? What can we do on the U.S. side to look at how these groups organize on the U.S. side?
GRANGER: The sharing of intelligence is extremely important, and the improvement in sharing intelligence is one of the most important things that's happened during this time. And the intelligence that's shared between Mexico -- between Mexico, Colombia and some of the other countries -- has been extraordinary. So the cooperation there with the Border Patrol, with some National Guard, with police agencies, with the sheriff's departments has been extraordinary and greatly improved.
Border security, we've done a lot as far as replacing sensors. When I would go to the border several years ago when I served on the Homeland Security Department, and it was outrageous how old the equipment was. The sensors were from 1996.
We have improved that. And the other thing that's occurred is our economy, with the economy the way it is in the United States, there's not as many people coming over here because there aren't the jobs.
But the main thing -- the attraction in what's happening with this drug trafficking, of course, is the use of drugs in the United States. And the market is there. You wouldn't have that enormous trafficking, enormous amount of money if the demand weren't here. And we're not doing very much on that this side of the border or on the other side of the border.
SELEE: Is there anything more we could be doing on consumption? I mean, it's very inelastic. It's hard to get this to change. But what else could we be doing?
GRANGER: It really is hard, and we just haven't put the emphasis on it that we have in the past. Usually, we react to something. At one time, we were talking about drugs and kids. It was usually marijuana. It's now cocaine and heroin. Very, very strong, very addictive coming, usually, right up Interstate 35. That's why Fort Worth and Dallas and Houston are all so very aware of this.
There are, certainly, programs in the schools. We don't do a lot with treatment because of the insurance and what's covered and what's realistic. But the market is something that absolutely should be addressed and will have to long term.
And, again, the cooperation and policing -- one of the things that has been done that's been very effective is the cooperation of saying can we help with police training. One of the reasons the military was used in this attack and this war on the drug traffickers is because the military was so trusted in Mexico compared to the police.
The corruption and the incompetence of the Mexican police is a real issue. Part of what's happened is other states helping to train police. Harris County in Texas has trained 4300 Mexican police. And so the police academies -- putting professionalism with the police has been a very important part of this.
SELEE: I would agree with you very much on this. I mean, you see, actually, there's a lot stronger federal-to-federal effort, but what states and counties are doing is often just as important.
SELEE: On police, on prosecutors, on justice reform.
Let me ask you one more question, then we'll open it. You know, in the end, if this is successful between the United States and Mexico working together on organized crime, the problem is going to go elsewhere. It's going to go back to the Caribbean. It's going to go to Central America, maybe other parts of South America.
What could we be doing in terms of the Merida Initiative and our broader efforts to be ramping up cooperation with some of the other countries in the region?
GRANGER: We need to quit being just reactive and look ahead and see that. And that has been the argument. And people say, well, this is a waste of money, Kay, because we just pushed them from Colombia to Mexico. If we run them out of Mexico, they'll go to Southern Mexico or somewhere else.
There's some truth to that, but this particular violence and drug trafficking has been different and has been -- now that we've worked with it for several years -- viewed as much worse than what was happening in Colombia. One of the things is human traffickers have also combined with drug traffickers. The use of these gangs as assassins has taken it to a level that we haven't seen before.
So I don't think we're just going to push this somewhere else. What we have to get is -- I go back to my experience. All of us who come to Congress bring our own personal experience, whatever it is. When we had the enormous gang problem in Fort Worth, we said, first of all, we're not going to stop kids from joining gangs. What we're going to try to get them is to not be involved in criminal activity.
And so we worked with those young people in a way -- we brought in the Boys and Girls Club and put an extraordinary amount of money into working with who was best on the ground to help them and emphasize education, some hope for doing something besides being in a gang.
At the same time, we went after the gang leaders and said, this is organized crime, tried them in federal courts, and put them in federal prisons and put them away for a long, long time. So you have to separate those who are organizing, those who can't be saved and try to help with education and opportunity those 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds.
SELEE: Well, let's open it up, actually, for any questions that you have. If you don't mind identifying yourself as well.
QUESTIONER: Mike Misetic (sp) with the "News Hour."
You mentioned the Fort Worth analogy, but I wonder -- in terms of gangs. But I wonder how analogous it really is because, presumably, the gangs in Fort Worth indulged in petty crime, whereas, in Mexico, you could participate in a billion-dollar industry and have the dream of, if you do okay, of owning a villa in Acapulco versus an alternative of eating beans.
How do you get to this whole question of the economic incentives that now are really plentiful that keep these gangs going?
GRANGER: The money is enormous, and the comparison I made had to do with different types. Now, let me say that it wasn't just petty crime. We had the second-highest violent crime rate in the nation in Fort Worth. So they were doing other than just petty crime.
But I go back to the market. And one of the reasons there's enormous amounts of money is because we're buying. We're buying those drugs. And so we have to look at our side of it, also.
The other thing has to do -- and this is -- we can't really -- have not come to proof on this, but also where the weapons are coming from in this crime in Mexico. And we're talking about grenade launchers. We're not talking about just guns. We're talking about serious equipment, and where is that equipment coming from and the money that's being used to get that equipment in Mexico?
QUESTIONER: I'm Alex Watson from Hills & Company. Thank you very much, Representative Granger, for sharing your thoughts with us.
I wonder what you think we ought to be doing and what we realistically could aspire to do on the issue you just raised, of transfer of weapons of all sorts from the United States into Mexico.
GRANGER: Well, part of it has to do with protecting our border. And when we talk about protecting our border, it's not just protecting who comes into our border, what goes out of our border, also. And that has not been done.
We've nibbled around the edges. Of course, it's an enormous border. We all know that. But we really haven't taken it seriously in protecting our border and know what goes through our border. We don't know if someone comes across our border in the United States if that's the same person that leaves and goes back.
I've been on the border. I've watched where -- and in night goggles seen 30 or 40 people crossing the border from Mexico into the United States, and we can't even get to them. We don't have the roads that are clear enough to get there to stop them. And so it's slowed down, as I said, because of our economy here as part of the reason, but we really haven't taken the serious steps to protect our border and to use the technology that we could to know what's coming across our border.
It's not all coming -- all those weapons are not coming from the United States into Mexico, but a lot of them are.
SELEE: You had your hand up?
QUESTIONER: I'm Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School.
You talk about all these young kids and not wanting to get them into drug gangs or into criminal gangs. What's available for them in the way of jobs? I mean, it seems to me that, as we look worldwide, the question is "Where's the work?" And I don't hear people talking about that. I mean, we talk about money, but we don't talk about employment.
And all you say is get an education and then, if there's no employment -- anyway, perhaps you could discuss that.
GRANGER: We probably don't talk because we don't have the answer. (Laughter.) And it's not -- there is a lack of opportunity. You were talking about what happens with those -- what do you do with those gang members.
Well, you know, if it were Texas, we could say stay in school, and you'd have jobs. We're talking about these gangs in Mexico. There's no job they can have that makes as much money as they make working with the drug traffickers. It's enormous amounts of money.
But part of what Mexico is -- in their plan -- only about half of the Merida Initiative has to do with equipment. But a lot of it has to do with building infrastructure, helping Mexico build infrastructure. Mexicans are very entrepreneurial, and we want their economy to be healthy for lots of reasons.
Right now, if you're in the midst of a warzone, you're not going to start a business. And no one's going to entice people to come from other countries to start businesses where they're literally in a warzone.
The maquiladoras have still continued for the most part, but when you have drug traffickers say, we own this town, which is what they're saying, then business is closed up. Businesses have been torched. A great number of police -- there were six that were killed a week ago.
So you just have a situation right now that is in such crisis. Trying to quell the crisis, but the infrastructure of education and jobs is exactly -- is the answer that has to occur.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Congresswoman, Sam Speedy (ph).
This is kind of a political third-rail question, but there have been ideas advanced within the region about legalizing possession of drugs in controlled amounts as a way to potentially attack the markup that fuels, obviously, the value of the enterprise in the United States.
In terms of the firearms question, picking up on Mr. Watson's point, there's 6,600 licensed gun dealers in the four states along the U.S.-Mexican border. Is there appetite to have a discussion about these sort of root-cause issues that maybe gets beyond hardware, law enforcement and those sorts of --
GRANGER: There should be. There should be. And what we're -- what the argument is, take the money out of it. Well, how do you take the money out of it? And that becomes the discussion about legalizing drugs. There has never been an appetite for that in the Congress with very few exceptions, and there's not the appetite for that at the local levels -- governors and mayors, city council people.
But, of course, that is a discussion that is always sort of the elephant in the room we don't talk about. But how do you take that massive, massive amount of money out of this issue?
QUESTIONER: If I can follow up on this, is there an appetite for discussion on drug policy in general in the United States? I've heard this from both Republicans and Democrats, not necessarily going in the direction for legalization but let's look at what we're doing in terms of drug policy, how do we reduce consumption on this side, legalization being one of the issues there.
But is this something that may happen in the next few years? Or are we a way off?
GRANGER: It is something that may happen. And you know our attention in the Congress waffs (sic) and wanes, and we have the attention of a gnat is what most people say.
But it does need to occur. When it occurs, for a while -- it depends on, like, what the health-care policy or the tax policy -- and for a while we looked at all these drug courts. We have drug courts where I'm from, and they're very successful at looking at second chances.
But drug treatment -- we really don't have drug treatment that works. It usually says, is it covered by insurance; yes, it's covered by 30 days. Does 30 days have anything to do with the amount of time it takes to get off drugs and stay off drugs? No. It's just a number of days that's covered in insurance policies.
So we really haven't looked at what works, what works long term, what can be done in schools as far as trying to keep kids off drugs, and then drugs in the workplace. We do drug testing now. I had some people in my office yesterday, and in their industry, they said, it must occur. It has to do with safety.
But we haven't looked at it in a long time of what's really successful and what's worked other places.
SELEE: Kevin, you had your hand up?
QUESTIONER: Yes. Congresswoman, President Calderon has brought in the army, of course, to perform a number of traditional policing functions because of the lethality of the gangs and because of the corruption within the police force.
A couple of questions. How do we transition from that? Is there evidence that the training of the police is resulting in a less-corrupt force overall? Are there other things that can be done? Are there threats that this corruption would overtake the military as they confront a tsunami of drug money? And can the police really be trained to use the kind of weaponry that the cartels have in a manner that would make them effective?
GRANGER: I think they can. And as I said earlier, the emphasis is now on moving to police, but we have to address the lack of competence and the corruption among the police, which is why the military was being used. One of the ways they're addressing this, again, is to have police trained by police academies in the United States to address the corruption.
But we know -- and the one of the first questions I asked when I got involved in this is how many police officers have been killed. It was a very low number. My first thought was my memory of going to Colombia and being met by these beautiful 500 children, they're all waving flags. They were all the orphans of Colombian police that had been killed.
When the police are in cooperating with the drug traffickers, they don't get killed.
So that corruption has to be addressed and is being. And they're being very aware of the number of police that may be cooperating with traffickers. It has to occur, however, because of the system of justice in Mexico. Again, the military have their hands tied in many ways if they capture someone.
Look at the number of people who have been captured who have confessed and have never gone to court. Ten mayors were arrested a year ago and accused of cooperating with the drug traffickers. Nine have been released. None went to court.
And so they're saying, if we're going to do anything about this versus just capturing them and releasing them and they go back, then we're going to have to change the system. The quickest way to change the system is to go to the police rather than the military.
QUESTIONER: Stephen Donehoo from McLarty Associates.
One of the concerns that I have is about the partisanship, and not partisanship on this side of the border necessarily, although that too, but in Mexico as you see the issue becoming more and more strong. You see some of the parties and some of the politicians backing away from it and considering going to a status quo.
What can we be doing to shore up President Calderon, not necessarily the party but the policy as a national policy in Mexico to ensure that he has the tools he needs, both political and in terms of resources, to be able to continue this policy?
GRANGER: I'm very concerned about it. I'm concerned that he won't have the time to make the difference and then it will start all over, that literally nothing -- it will all revert -- all the advances that have been made because he will lose the support. And that's what I was talking about the impatience and understandable impatience of the Mexican people and then watching that in a partisan way, saying we can get rid of him and start over.
I think the best way we can support is to help him be effective. That's one of the reasons I had the meetings yesterday and said, no, you cannot wait three years to deliver the equipment that we promised. He doesn't have three years.
SELEE: Eric Olson.
QUESTIONER: Thank you, Congresswoman. Eric Olson from the Wilson Center.
I wanted to return to the issue of the border because it seems like there's a real kind of dilemma at the border. On the one hand, as you rightly say, we need to do more to secure the border both for what's coming in and what's going out. On the other hand, when I've been at the border and there's more sort of security focus there, it really has a counter -- it has a negative impact on local communities, the economic exchange.
You know, it seems like there's this dilemma between security and economic trade and commerce in local communities.
And I wondered if you would talk a little bit about sort of the tradeoffs there and how you see that, especially, from the border area. And, also, the third pillar of this, you know, new strategy has to do with the 21st century border. How do you understand that? What's happening to try to define what is the 21st century border anyway?
GRANGER: It is. It's a real dilemma. And it's very difficult -- if you said -- if you mean by secure the border that we're going to put a high fence all across the border, then you do shut Mexico off and you shut off our third-most important trading partner. And the access back and forth -- I mean, the towns in the United States are saying don't do that to us, because that has been a free border and been very important to the economy, not just at the southern border but the economy of the United States.
So that's a difficult one. How do you send enough equipment to say stop that violence in Juarez, Mexico, right across the border from El Paso but know that there are family members that live on either side and people doing business? So it's got to be handled very, very carefully, and we're very aware of that.
And that's why, in responding, "we," meaning my committee can't make those decisions. We have to listen very carefully and say what is appropriate and what is appropriate and make it happen. But it is difficult. So I say you have a border with areas that people can cross legally, but it's perfectly acceptable and right to know who is coming across that border, who is leaving, identification, and making sure what's coming back and forth -- but in such a way to be a welcoming country in a legal way. And that's what we should have.
And we kind of start and stop on that, so it's not all sensors, it's not all fences. It is technology. But to be a realistic and -- in one situation I remember visiting where we had built this wonderful road right up to the border and a great place to cross except there was nothing on the Mexico side. So it was not used at all.
And we thought that was success. And if I had been on that committee, I would have checked it and said, ah, success, we finally finished that crossing. Well, of course, we didn't because there was nothing to cross to.
And so that -- the good thing that's come out of this, as we said earlier is the cooperation with a better sense of trust from Mexico to the United States. They did not trust us. And there's a better sense of trust for lots of reasons. So let's use that trust and be realistic about it.
SELEE: Dr. Land?
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Representative Granger, I had a conversation with a Mexican national last week who said that, in his opinion and in many of his friends' opinion, that President Calderon was the last best hope and that he was being undermined in terms of his support at home because of the failure of the United States to bring about comprehensive immigration reform, and that that was really necessary to help give him the consensus he needs to continue the fight.
And this person was very fearful that, if he was unsuccessful, that it would go back to, perhaps, something worse than the status quo. I'd like to just get your opinion about that and his assessment of President Calderon and the situation.
GRANGER: I think his assessment is correct. I go back to my conversations with Vicente Fox when he was running and what his hopes were and what his attempts were and that most of them failed.
And so I think they would go back, have every possibility of becoming worse. He's very sincere in what he wants to do. It's been amazingly difficult. He's under enormous threat. And I think probably that our lack of taking on an immigration policy and change -- reform is the word I'm looking for -- does hurt him. It hurts us. Unfortunately, when we did it before, as I said, the extremes on both sides took over the rhetoric and we were not able to do that.
And when we talk about immigration reform, it has to mean reform of legal immigration which is a nightmare to go through. And we were not able to do it. I would love to see us do it. I don't think, in this political climate, right now, after health care and as divisive as health care was that -- I would be very surprised if it's possible to take on another issue that could become even more divisive.
SELEE: I can do a quick infomercial on this. The Council on Foreign Relations did a very good report on immigration recently. Ted Alden was the director of it. Richard Land was one of the members. Jeb Bush and Mack McLarty co-chaired it.
But I call your attention now that immigration is back in the debate to that document.
QUESTIONER: Andrew, you have to announce that you were part of it as well.
SELEE: Well, I was part of it as well. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Don't undermine your own role.
SELEE: But Ted was, of course, the mind behind this.
Dov, you're next.
QUESTIONER: Dov Zakheim.
Your talking about the holdups on the Blackhawks reminds me of the difficulties we had with a certain Senate appropriator regarding Indonesia. And that's still going on. I don't know if you follow that one closely.
My question to you is this: Do you get the sense that there's really a full-court press on this particular senator to have him change his mind? In other words, at the highest levels, not just the commander of SOUTHCOM who, you know, makes his ritual pilgrimage, but at the highest levels of State and Defense?
Is this something that's really being focused on because, unless it is, you'll have an Indonesia situation which hasn't yet been resolved and has been going on for about 15 years or 20 years now.
GRANGER: No, I don't think it's being addressed at the level it should be. I don't.
And I don't -- it's -- there are people, whether they're in Congress, whether they're in DOD, whether they're in State who can use their power -- simply, it just hasn't made its way to the top of my stack. One of them said very clearly in a meeting we had yesterday -- I said, I will not let this go. I will outlast you. You know, it should not be, to get equipment that has been appropriated by the Congress and to get it where it's supposed to be, it should not be an individual member of Congress having to pick up the telephone or the cell phone and say it's still not here; where is it, why hasn't that paper been signed; I will call you every day until this happens.
That is a very poor way to operate. We should set our priorities and say -- and I asked, is this a priority with you? Then, if it is, why is it being handled this way? But it's a systemic problem. It is not just a problem with Indonesia or with Mexico. And that is what has to be addressed.
In this change from responsibilities with DOD and State, it is a huge change, enormous sums of money, enormous change in personnel. And it could get even more bogged down unless we watch it very closely and put in there a system that makes sense and puts things ahead regardless of someone who is going to serve two years in a particular position.
That's what has to occur. So we have to step at a 35,000-feet level and say what works and what doesn't because that change, particularly, could bog down enormously.
QUESTIONER: Jeff Price, Georgetown.
I'd like to ask you a question, if I could, about the Medellin case. I'm not sure if you're familiar with this. This is the case where Mexicans arrested in the United States aren't given their rights to consular access under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
It's an irritant in U.S.-Mexican relations. It's an embarrassment, frankly, to the United States that we have been unable bring ourselves into compliance with it.
President Bush tried to bring us into compliance and failed in the Supreme Court. The answer was the only way to ensure that Mexicans arrested in the United States are given their rights to access and the hearings that the world court has said they should have is congressional action.
And this may not be the most popular thing. But my question to you is: What do you assess the possibility of getting congressional action to bring us into compliance with this treaty and, hopefully, remove this irritant between us and Mexico and, frankly, something that's embarrassing to the United States in its conduct of treaties globally?
GRANGER: And I can't answer that. I'm sorry. I don't deal with that. I will say that if we're going to take this seriously -- and we're at the end of our funding in the Merida Initiative. Certainly, the problem has not been resolved. And so, as we move forward and say, now, what else do we do, we need to take issues like that that are interfering with our relationship with Mexico and the cooperation that they need from us and we need from them.
So it can be in the context of this whole evaluation and raising the attention level on this. That is something that could be addressed, and I will be glad to follow up with you on it. Thank you.
QUESTIONER: I'm Dan Erikson with Inter-American Dialogue. And thank you, Congresswoman, for your comments today and, Andrew, for putting this together. You're an excellent chair.
I had two questions. The first was, Congresswoman, you mentioned Colombia a few times in your remarks and your work on Colombia. And I was wondering how relevant is the U.S. experience with Plan Colombia to the Merida Initiative? I know that, from the outset, there was a concern with the Mexican government not to make this Plan Mexico, thinking there might be a branding issue there.
And, clearly, with Colombia, you were looking at eradication, fumigation, eventually moved onto the security situation as well. But I wanted to just have your reflections on that.
And then the second -- my second question was that the U.S., obviously, underwent our own transition a year or so ago from President Bush to President Obama. The Merida Initiative was, in fact, conceived by President Bush and began to be implemented under the Bush administration.
And so I wanted to know from your perspective on the Hill, has anything unfolded differently over the last year and a half since President Obama came into office? Or has this program with the Merida Initiative basically unfolded almost exactly as it would have had President Bush still remained in office?
GRANGER: I'll start with your first question of how relevant is it with Colombia. We would make an enormous mistake of saying Colombia and Mexico are just alike, like we were making a huge mistake when someone said Iraq, Afghanistan, just alike. Very different. Very different situation. We need to understand the differences, certainly.
I think it is relevant in the United States' response to both in saying that we can provide equipment and training, in some cases, and exchanges. And I think that is where the connection and the comparison is.
But one of the important parts of dealing with Colombia and now Mexico is President Uribe who could say -- he sort of could be the person in between who says they were helpful, and this is what they did, and they did not try to take over, they didn't make all the decisions, they cooperated and responded. And so he and President Calderon had a good relationship and helped in our relationship. And I think that's probably as relevant as anything on that.
The transition -- now, the Merida Initiative was a Bush initiative, and we were -- however, it was a three-year initiative, and with the Obama administration, we're in the last third. So essentially, we've completed our funding.
The difference has been not so much from one administration to another but the strategy at this time in Mexico. I think the attention, having Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, Admiral Mullen, Janet Napolitano all in Mexico at the same time, that is very, very powerful. That is a very, very strong statement of saying this is a priority.
That's why someone like I can say this administration has said it's a priority, why can't you respond, because that's obvious. So I think that's been very important. The strategy going toward more community development, police training, that is a change that has occurred that was going to occur at some time, but the strategy that came out of that very high-level meeting said less equipment, finish the equipment that we promised, get it there and now let's work on training and, again, at emphasis on cross-border relations.
I said I have a medical school in my district. They are doing some wonderful work. That can be an exchange and a relationship development. Things like sister cities -- I come from a city -- Toluca, Mexico, is one of the sister cities. Then to continue those exchanges -- there's a lot of things that are on this administration's list at this time. But I think it's more because that is what is appropriate at this time.
SELEE: We have time for one or two more questions so we can end on time. Let me remind you that this meeting has been on the record.
QUESTIONER: Thanks, Andrew. Ted Alden from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Just before my question, a footnote to Daniel's question about the Colombia-Mexico parallels. Rob Bonner, who was a member of the task force with Andrew and with Richard on immigration, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and of CBP, actually he's written an article that my understanding is is coming out in a forthcoming edition of Foreign Affairs looking in detail at the Colombia-Mexico parallels.
And he actually thinks that they're pretty strong, that a number of the strategies that we used successfully in Colombia could be used in Mexico as well.
My question is about -- you mentioned human smuggling. To what extent have you been able to glean whether there is a link between the criminal organizations involved in human smuggling across the border, particularly in Arizona, and the criminal organizations involved in drug smuggling. Are these the same entities? Are they linked? Are they different?
GRANGER: The way I understand it is they are linked. They're not the same, but they have never linked before. So this is something new that they're using the same routes, some of the same protection, not the same people, but some of that.
The other connection that we're watching is a connection with terrorists and is there a linkage there. Those linkages have not happened anyplace else. They look like they're happening in Mexico.
Again, a very dangerous situation.
SELEE: We still do have time for one more question, so let's -- Jeff?
QUESTIONER: With regard to the broader region, you touched on this briefly, but Central America is also an area of great concern. We have the same problem, for instance with gangs incubated in the United States being then growing in Honduras and other countries in Central America. And we have not devoted the same degree of resources to a problem which is of great importance to us as well.
I wonder if you could speak a little about that.
GRANGER: We haven't. I failed to mention that the Merida Initiative is not just Mexico. It's Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Belize, and Costa Rica. And I have those written down because I can't always name them off. So it's not just Merida -- I mean it's not just Mexico.
Part of the mistrust from Mexico is our lack of attention to South and Central America and that we have not focused or not made the most of those relationships. And that came in early talks and continues to come up. And so our focus can't just be just Mexico. It happens to be the house on fire right now. But our attention needs to be beyond that.
SELEE: Well, I want thank you all of you for coming and, especially, Congresswoman Granger for very perceptive comments and very open comments to all of us. I recognize Kay King and Jeff Gullo from the Council on Foreign Relations for organizing this.
And thanks again, Congresswoman.
GRANGER: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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