Mexico Expects U.S. to Accelerate Anti-Drug Aid, Espinosa Says

Mexico expects the U.S. to accelerate the disbursement of aid to strengthen its fight against drug gangs and put back on track a $1.4 billion program that has been hamstrung by delays in recent years, Foreign Affairs Minister Patricia Espinosa said.

Espinosa, in an interview yesterday, said both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to disburse $500 million this year in equipment and aid for police training as part of the bilateral Merida Initiative. Mexico expects to receive complete financing of the multi-year program by next year, she said.

“We got off to a slow start in part because this is a completely new cooperation plan,” Espinosa, 52, said at Bloomberg’s offices in Mexico City. “We now see that it’s advancing more quickly.”

U.S. anti-narcotics aid to Mexico suffered delays even as the death toll from President Felipe Calderon’s crackdown on drug gangs surged to over 35,000 victims since he took office in 2006. Mexico received at least $480 million in U.S. aid under the program since it was signed in 2008 by Calderon and former President George W. Bush, with $380 million arriving between 2008 and 2010, according to data from the Foreign Ministry.

The shortfall in U.S. assistance has delayed the delivery of equipment including polygraph machines and Black Hawk helicopters needed to combat drug traffickers. It has also delayed the training of Mexican officials, according to the GAO report.

Until a year ago the U.S. had delivered only about 9 percent of the promised aid to Mexico and Central America because agencies involved lacked staff and funding, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report in 2010.

Economic Impact

Mexico’s government estimates that drug-related violence shaves 1.2 percentage points off output annually in Latin America’s second-biggest economy. The country’s benchmark IPC stock index has risen 26 percent since Calderon took office vowing to eliminate the cartels that transport 90 percent of the cocaine entering the U.S. The peso has lost 11.5 percent against the U.S. dollar over the same period.

As part of the effort to deepen security cooperation with the U.S. along the border, the government will continue to allow U.S. drones to conduct non-piloted surveillance flights over Mexican territory, Espinosa said.

The flights, first announced by Mexico in March, are carried out with the government’s permission on a case by case basis and do not violate the nation’s sovereignty, Espinosa said. Opposition lawmakers have criticized the government for allowing the flights over Mexican territory.

“It will depend on the operational basis and on the targets being chased,” Espinosa said.

2012 Elections

Espinosa said she is hopeful the U.S. and Mexico will continue to cooperate on security issues along the border though the direction of policy will depend on the outcome of presidential elections to be held next year in both countries.

“We have a very complex problem that requires a long period of time to be resolved,” said Espinosa, a former ambassador to Austria who has served as Mexico’s chief diplomat since Calderon took office.

Relations with the U.S. became strained earlier this year after Calderon criticized then-U.S. ambassador Carlos Pascual for complaining about Mexican security forces in a secret cable divulged by the WikiLeaks website. Calderon’s rebuke came after Clinton, in September 2010, said that rising drug violence in Mexico was beginning to resemble Colombia 20 years ago.

Arson Attack

Pascual resigned in March and was replaced by Anthony Wayne, whose previous posting was in Afghanistan.

Calderon renewed his criticism of the U.S. in August after 52 people were killed in an arson attack on a casino in Monterrey allegedly perpetrated by members of the Zetas drug gang.

“I earnestly ask you to end once and for all the criminal sales of assault weapons to the criminals that operate in Mexico,” Calderon said in a speech following the attack.

In addition to fighting the flow of illegal narcotics, Mexico and the U.S. are negotiating an agreement to regulate the development of oil fields that straddle the nations’ maritime border in the Gulf of Mexico, Espinosa said.

“We want to have a judicial framework that will allow us to protect our national assets and we expect to have it done by the end of this year or early next year,” Espinosa said.

In past years, Mexico has raised concerns that companies drilling on the U.S. side of the Gulf near Mexico’s border may extract oil that belongs to Mexico.

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