U.S. Anti-Drug Plan Would Recast Legal System in Mexico

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 18, 2007

MEXICO CITY -- The Bush administration's proposed counternarcotics aid package for Mexico would set in motion a vast reengineering of the country's justice system, revamping the legal education process, creating a network of court clerks and helping to write new laws, according to two summaries obtained by The Washington Post.

The $500 million plan would also fund anti-drug and human rights campaigns and new citizen complaint centers. It would provide money for efforts to develop "centers of moral authority" and for media campaigns to create "a culture of lawfulness."

Under the plan, which has drawn criticism from some on Capitol Hill, officials from the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons would conduct training sessions and military officers would provide instruction related to aircraft.

Nearly every sector of Mexico's federal justice system would receive a slice of the proposed aid, with millions being doled out for equipment and training for prosecutors, federal police, prison managers and customs inspectors. It would also give birth to new institutions: Money has been set aside, for instance, to help establish a training academy for drug-sniffing dogs and their handlers.

Bush proposed the package Oct. 22, announcing its inclusion in a supplementary war spending bill. The aid was requested by the Mexican government, which has been struggling to contain a war among drug cartels that are blamed for more than 4,000 killings in the past 18 months. If approved by the U.S. Congress, the package would represent a landmark in relations between the two countries, which often have failed to coordinate counternarcotics efforts.

About 40 percent of the aid package would go to the Mexican military, which would receive helicopters, planes and ion scanners, which detect traces of drugs. The military, which President Felipe Calder¿n is deploying in anti-drug offensives, has been accused of human rights violations by several international organizations, complicating its inclusion in the deal.

The U.S. effort to sell the plan in Mexico, where there is an ongoing debate about whether the military should be involved in drug campaigns, has been hampered by inaccurate reports in Mexican media that 60 percent of the package would go to the Mexican army and navy.

The Mexican attorney general's office would receive more than $70 million for an array of projects, including forensics labs and anti-corruption training, as well as for armored vehicles for 30 prosecutors and 13 investigators. Much of that money would also go to upgrade computer systems and provide training. An existing program that allows Mexican and U.S. prosecutors working in parts of the border area to share information would be extended along the full length of the border.

The Mexican federal police force -- which stands to receive more than $39 million -- would get $2 million to establish or upgrade investigative units that would specialize in gangs, organized crime or money laundering. It would also get millions for polygraph machines that would be used in vetting officers and for training programs as it tries to meet a goal of adding 8,000 investigators in the next two years.

The plan proposes helping to "develop appropriate legislation," which some analysts believe could be perceived as an attempt by the United States to dictate Mexican laws. It also calls for U.S. officials to help develop "substantive legislation on forfeiting assets that have been used to commit crimes or which are the proceeds of crime." Asset forfeiture is a controversial topic in Mexico, where a complex formula determines how drug money is spread among government agencies. Recently, a $200 million drug forfeiture in Mexico City devolved into bickering between Mexican agencies and accusations that the federal government did not provide a full accounting of the seizure.

Beyond detailing the multi-pronged plan, the documents present the fullest explanation to date of its goals and give insights about which institutions the U.S. government sees as best able to attack the drug problem.

In one instance, the document states that Mexico's military, known by its Spanish-language initials SEDENA, is better suited to interdict drug shipments, especially those in remote areas, than the Mexican federal police or the customs agency.

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