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by Diego Cevallos

In Mexico's War on Drugs, Cartels Have Upper Hand

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- U.S. anti-drug aid to Mexico is to be increased from $40 million to over $500 million a year, an unprecedented boost in funding that will expand a controversial strategy in which the military is heavily involved in the war on drugs.

Mexican officials said Thursday that the two governments have already concluded the negotiations for the agreement, which includes donations of equipment, training of military personnel and the development of joint intelligence programs, but no cash. However, it requires approval by the U.S. Congress before it can enter into force.

"The amount of aid that has been announced indicates the extent of the failure of the model that has been followed so far. But paradoxically the same model is going to be continued," Javier Oliva, a Mexican academic and expert on security and drug trafficking, told IPS.

Jose Luis Sierra, another researcher on the issue, said it was "a gigantic mistake" to insist on military involvement instead of prioritizing prevention in Mexico and the United States.

"Most of the financing that has been announced should go to the health and education sectors," he told IPS.

The agreement has no official name yet, but the local press has dubbed it Plan Mexico, by analogy with the anti-drug and counter-insurgency Plan Colombia that the U.S. has been financing in that country since 2000, which also includes sending U.S. military advisers to Colombia.

In June this year, the White House admitted that the area under illegal coca cultivation in Colombia had actually grown in 2006.

The U.S. and Colombian governments, as well as a number of analysts, say that the drug trade is fuelling the long-drawn-out civil war in Colombia between leftwing guerrillas, government troops and rightwing paramilitary groups -- now partially demobilized -- linked to the drug cartel bosses.

The administration of Felipe Calderon stressed that the negotiated agreement does not include the presence of U.S. troops, military installations or foreign agents in Mexico. It will involve, instead, the use of new technology, training of military personnel and exchange of information.

In a telephone interview from France, where he is doing research at the Paris Institute of Political Science, Oliva said that the agreement "pursues a method that doesn't work, but does ensure U.S. influence on the struggle against drug trafficking."

Washington "is strengthening its continent-wide strategy for combating the drug mafias," said Oliva, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Since the 1980s, with Washington's support, Mexico and other Latin American countries have followed a strategy that focuses on pursuit and arrest of drug traffickers, the destruction of drug crops, treating consumers as criminals, and expanding the involvement of the armed forces.

Critics of this strategy say that it has resulted in more violence in drug-producing countries, destruction of their social fabric, higher rates of domestic drug consumption, and some variability in the amount of drugs entering the U.S., the world's greatest consumer of illegal drugs.

But trafficking and consumption are continuing apace, which means that the strategy isn't working, Oliva and Sierra concurred.

According to several studies, Mexican law and order forces only manage to confiscate less than 20 percent of the drugs which powerful cartels are trafficking into the United States.

"The new agreement with Washington, which has not been fully described yet by Mexico, again neglects the idea of improved training for the police, and implementing prevention policies," said Sierra from Houston, Texas where he is engaged in research.

The Calderon administration, which took office in December, ordered the armed forces into the frontline of the battle against drug trafficking on an unprecedented scale, although previous governments have also involved the military from the late 1980s on. Using the army for what is basically police work has left a trail of human rights violations, according to the National Human Rights Commission.

There have been complaints of unwarranted house searches, illegal arrests, robbery, torture, rape and murder, sometimes committed by soldiers under the influence of drugs.

The strategy, permitted by domestic laws that are criticized by human rights groups, has drawn praise from Washington, which says that the government of Mexico is on the right path in the fight against the drug trade.

Several local analysts support the use of the armed forces, because they see them as the only force that can match experienced drug smugglers. However, they are critical of the government for failing to take steps to professionalize the police.

According to Carlos Rico, the Mexican deputy foreign minister, the new agreement with Washington is to start operating in 2008, for a minimum of two years. The amount to be received by Mexico over the two years will be between $1-1.4 billion dollars, he said.

Prior information about the negotiations from the Calderon administration was limited, but Rico stated that Mexico had asked the United States to redouble its efforts against domestic drug consumption and arms trafficking.

Rico was confident that the program will not be held up by the U.S. Congress. In Mexico, legislative approval for the program is not required by law.

In response to members of the opposition, who view the agreement as a potential violation of Mexican sovereignty, Rico insisted that Mexico will not accept the presence of U.S. troops or anti-drug agents within its territory.

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Albion Monitor   October 8, 2007   (

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