Understanding and Improving Mérida
With the Mérida Initiative set to expire on September 31, 2010, it’s time to evaluate in what form the initiative should continue. Developed under the administration of former president George W. Bush and passed by Congress in 2008, the Mérida Initiative to Combat Illicit Narcotics and Reduce Organized Crime provided $1.4 billion over three years to help Mexico and its neighbors confront the challenges posed by drug cartels and criminal violence. At the time, the program, which included Mexico, the seven countries of Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, was considered essential to demonstrate sustained U.S. government support for the efforts of these governments to tackle lawlessness within their own borders, as well as to support the United States’ own security initiatives in the region.
It Still Remains Essential
As the initiative completes its final year, two key components will come into play: formation of the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) to provide a stronger identity to regional programs in Central America, and a significant shift of emphasis in Mexico’s security projects to strengthen democratic institutions and expand the smart border along the U.S. and Mexico, allowing for secured, fast transport directly from farms and factories to the United States. Furthermore, this year, the Obama administration created the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) to include Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the effort.
The State Department has proposed a major renewal and expansion of the program. Starting in 2011, $310 million would be granted to Mexico,1 another $100 million for CARSI,2 and $79 million for CBSI. Assessing the value of this “second generation” of U.S. support requires untangling its various threads and the distinct points of collaboration within the governments of the region to reflect the complexity of U.S. relations with the Central American governments.
While there is clarity on how Mérida funds will be used and disbursed in Mexico, the Central American component of the project is somewhat less defined, with the Caribbean almost an afterthought. Despite the State Department’s claim that a collaborative process with host governments exists, the fact that seven governments with different national security interests are involved in the project has complicated the institutional arrangements. For instance, the selection of the coordinating ministry within the host country appears to depend more upon established embassy-host-government relationships and a history of constructive bilateral projects than on any regional and standardized procedures. While this flexibility may be admirable, given our varying relations, transparency over the use of U.S. taxpayer money and policy coordination suffers.
The following is a description of how the system has worked so far in the U.S. government and in the region…