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Help for Mexico
A U.S. plan to support counter-narcotics efforts is well timed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

SOME EXPECTED that Felipe Calder¿n would be crippled as Mexican president by his close and controversial victory in last year's elections. But Mr. Calder¿n is proving more capable and more effective, so far, than many of his predecessors. Responding to a near breakdown in the rule of law in parts of his country, the president has dispatched 20,000 troops to fight powerful drug gangs, extradited traffickers to the United States in record numbers and increased spending to fight their networks by a quarter. U.S. officials say they are seeing some results: Cocaine availability was reported down and prices up in 37 American cities in the first half of this year.

Judging that it has a reliable partner in Mexico City, the Bush administration has proposed spending $500 million next year to help equip and train Mexican police and military forces to fight drug traffickers. An additional $50 million in aid is proposed for Central American governments, and $900 million is planned for future spending on the Mexico program. The first $550 million is included in the supplemental budget request Mr. Bush delivered to Congress last month. Almost all of the funds would cover the cost of training police or supplying planes, helicopters, detection equipment for use by customs and communications gear. Mexican officials say that none of the U.S. aid would be in cash and that no new U.S. personnel would be deployed in Mexico.

The package nevertheless will probably become a target for leftists in Mexico and the United States who reflexively oppose any military or security collaboration between the two countries. The Mexican press is calling the aid program "Plan Mexico," after Plan Colombia, the U.S. aid program that has been a continual target for the left despite its clear success in helping the Colombian government beat back drug traffickers, leftist guerrillas and right-wing insurgents. Critics point out that Plan Colombia hasn't had a decisive impact on the flow of Colombian cocaine to the United States, and it can be safely predicted that the Mexican aid program also won't stop drugs from crossing the border in significant quantities.

What the Bush administration calls the "Merida Initiative" nevertheless could help Mexico strengthen the rule of law and limit the influence of murderous drug traffickers responsible for more than 4,000 violent deaths in less than two years. It could also improve Washington's relationship with a reformist Mexican president at a time when such populist demagogues as Venezuela's Hugo Ch¿vez are doing their best to undermine Latin America's democrats and when Congress's resistance to immigration reform is corroding U.S.-Mexican relations. Whether it is called the Merida Initiative or Plan Mexico, the administration's aid package deserves congressional support.

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