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Published:October 27th, 2007 06:41 EST
U.S.-Mexico Plan Seen Improving Border Security

U.S.-Mexico Plan Seen Improving Border Security

By SOP newswire

Washington -- A new U.S.-Mexico cooperation plan is seen as a way to reduce growing drug trafficking and other criminal activities on the two countries’ mutual border.

James Jones, U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 1993 to 1997, told USINFO that the plan would disrupt the operations of Mexican drug traffickers and criminal organizations and provide “considerably more security at the border for both of our countries.”  Although details about the plan remain sketchy, Jones thinks the proposal will help “considerably” in the effort against drugs and improve the “stability of democracy” in Mexico.

Jones, now chief executive officer and co-chairman of the Washington-based consulting firm ManattJones Global Strategies, which focuses on Latin America and the Caribbean, said that as long as the demand for illegal drugs in the United States remains strong and there are profits to be made, “there will be narco-traffickers who will find a way” to transport illicit drugs to the U.S. market.

Jones, a U.S. congressman from Oklahoma from 1973-1987, said he understands the plan will provide for additional technology so that cargo coming to the United States will be better screened for contraband.  An added intelligence-gathering and communications capability for Mexico, tied in with U.S. efforts on those fronts, means that the two countries can gain more information earlier about criminals “who might be trying to reach our territory,” said Jones.

An October 22 joint statement by the United States and Mexico said the Bush administration is asking Congress to approve $500 million for fiscal year 2008 for what is called the Mérida Initiative to fight drug traffickers and criminal organizations operating on the U.S.-Mexican border.  In addition, the United States has requested an initial $50 million in that same year for Central American countries to bolster their efforts to fight criminals and illegal drugs.

The initiative’s name derives from a March meeting in Mérida, Mexico, where President Bush and Mexican President Felipe Calderón agreed to expand bilateral and regional cooperation against criminal organizations operating in their respective countries.  (See related article.)

The former envoy said he suspects the United States announced the plan now to assess whether the Mexican government was “truly committed” to fighting drug traffickers and other criminal elements, and he predicted that Mexico will meet the challenge.

“It’s pretty clear” that [the Mexicans] are committed,” said Jones.

Jones said the “troubled history” over the past two centuries between the United States and Mexico leads to the question of how the plan will be received by the Mexican public.  Americans should be “very sensitive” to Mexico’s situation, Jones said.

The Mexican public will insist that the sovereignty of Mexico “not be breached in any way by the United States through this package,” Jones said.  He added that the plan will be well received “as long as there are assurances in the legislation that there will be no [U.S.] troops on the ground” in Mexico.  The U.S. funds should be used in full respect for human rights and not to suppress social movements in Mexico, said Jones.

Even the naming of the plan meets with Mexican sensitivities, Jones indicated.  Names offered by journalists and other observers -- Plan Mexico or Plan Mérida -- sound similar to Plan Colombia, in which a small number of U.S. troops and contractors are in Colombia to advise the Colombians in their fight against narcotics trafficking.

Jones said he agrees with the Mexicans that their country is not in the same situation as Colombia, which has been fighting a long civil war.

To call the proposal Plan Mexico or Plan Mérida “equates it in the minds of many people as another Colombia exercise,” said Jones.  He said the level of “real democracy” in Mexico is “significantly different” from that in Colombia.

Jones suggested in his October 25 testimony before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives that a more appropriate title should be “United States and Mexico Partnership to Enhance Border Security and Combat Organized Crime.”

“Certainly, that is how we and Mexico should view the proposal,” Jones testified.

PLAN COULD FOSTER GREATER SECURITY AGENCY COOPERATION

Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the latest initiative holds potential for improving cooperation between U.S. and Mexican security agencies.

But he told USINFO that the plan is not a “silver bullet” [(panacea] for fighting transnational criminal organizations.

Both countries recognize, said Peschard-Sverdrup, that Mexico needs to strengthen its law enforcement capabilities “to address some of the asymmetries [differences] that exist between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement” agencies.  This proposal, he said, “responds” to that recognition.

Peschard-Sverdrup, who also heads his own Virginia-based consulting firm, said the plan aims to give the Mexican government “the necessary tools” to take on criminal organizations “well before they reach the border and well before they reach U.S. communities.”

Peschard-Sverdrup, who testified on the plan at the same congressional hearing as Jones, said that unless the United States and Mexico work jointly in confronting “this transnational threat, I don’t think we have a hope of effectively countering” the criminal organizations.

The testimonies of Peschard-Sverdrup and Jones are on the Web site of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

For additional details, see a transcript of a background briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and a related fact sheet

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer

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