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Column 081307 Wall

Monday, August 13, 2007

Will a “Plan Mexico” be the New “Plan Colombia”?

By Allan Wall

Current negotiations between the United States and Mexican governments may lead to a major U.S. aid package for Mexico in its war against the drug cartels. In fact, it may amount to a Mexican version of “Plan Colombia.”

Plan Colombia is the ongoing U.S. government aid program to Colombia in its war on drugs, begun while Clinton was still president.

In fact, some have already utilized the term “Plan Mexico” in reference to the proposed American aid package to Mexico.

Negotiations are still going on between the United States and Mexican governments, with an announcement of the results expected later in the month.  It appears that Plan Mexico would be an enormous expansion of current anti-drug assistance to Mexico. Current assistance runs to the tune of US$40 million, but the new plan would involve hundreds of millions of dollars. (For starters anyway, Plan Colombia has cost US$5 billion so far.)

What kind of assistance would be included in a Plan Mexico, and how would it differ from Plan Colombia?  There would be similarities and differences. For one thing, Plan Colombia focused on eradication of coca fields and aerial interdiction. But the problem in Mexico is principally the transit of drugs, not the production.

So here’s what Plan Mexico would likely consist of.  It would involve the transfer of equipment, technological support and training for Mexican security forces. It would expand the wiretapping assistance already being provided.  Plan Mexico would supply radar in order to track the drug traffic. It would include aircraft (probably Black Hawk helicopters) used to transport Mexican security forces.

Most surprising though, there has been some talk — and maybe it’s just talk — of having U.S. troops in Mexico in some as-yet-undefined direct role in the drug war.

Plan Colombia has utilized hundreds of U.S. troops in Colombia. But Mexico is not Colombia.  Due to military conflict in the past between Mexico and the United States (the Mexican War in the 19th century, and the Mexican Revolution in the 20th century), a large American military presence is not countenanced.

In other words, if that really happened it would be a major departure from historical precedent.  The known presence of a more direct role in Plan Mexico by the U.S. military could cause real political problems for President Felipe Calderon.

There is reticence on the American side as well. In the U.S. Congress for starters, where Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat-Vermont) is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.  Leahy’s senior foreign policy aide, Tim Rieser, demanded more specific information: "Who would Congress be providing assistance to, under what terms and conditions, and how would Congress know the support is not going to the very people who are engaged in this type of criminal activity?"

These are legitimate questions, of course, as in the past some Mexican soldiers trained by the United States to fight drug cartels have wound up using their skills to work for the cartels.  Not only that, but the high-tech equipment the U.S. would be giving to Mexico could also fall into the wrong hands.

Plus there are U.S. domestic political issues involved, on both sides of the aisle. Quoth Rieser: "There is bipartisan concern about the Bush administration's lack of meaningful consultation with Congress. They see Congress as their personal ATM machine, not as an equal branch of government."  Don’t forget, the U.S. is already in its 2008 presidential election cycle, so that’s a factor too.

Reportedly, the details of “Plan Mexico” (or whatever they’re going to call it) are set to be announced in Canada at a tri-national summit on August 20th and 21st, with U.S. President George W. Bush, Mexican President Calderon, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in attendance.

One thing is for sure though. The challenge of the drug cartels is a big one. The cartels are strong and they are loaded with money.  Their drug trafficking is enabled by corruption among Mexican policemen. It is fed by an enormous demand for drugs in the United States.  And, drug abuse is growing in Mexico.  Even the physical geography of Mexico — its miles and miles of beaches, its mountains and canyons, and isolated places — is used by the cartels to move their cargo through the country undetected.

So Plan Mexico would face formidable challenges — from the drug cartels themselves, as well as political complications on both sides of the border.

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Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.  He currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991. He can be reached via e-mail at allan39@prodigy.net.mx.