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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mérida Initiative for Mexico and Central America: Funding and Policy Issues

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Increasing violence perpetrated by drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and other criminal groups is threatening citizen security in Mexico and Central America. Drug-related violence claimed more than 6,500 lives in Mexico in 2009, and several Central American countries have among the highest homicide rates in the world. Mexican DTOs dominate the illicit drug market in the United States and are expanding their operations by forming partnerships with U.S. gangs. As a result, some of the drug-related violence in Mexico has spilled over into the United States. 

On October 22, 2007, the United States and Mexico announced the Mérida Initiative, a proposed package of U.S. counterdrug and anticrime assistance for Mexico and Central America that would begin in FY2008 and last through FY2010. Congress appropriated roughly $1.3 billion for Mexico and Central America, as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in the FY2008 Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-252), FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 111- 8), and the FY2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-32). Each of these Acts contained human rights conditions on 15% of certain law enforcement and military assistance provided. Throughout 2009, drug-related violence in Mexico and the potential threat of spillover along the Southwest border focused congressional concern on the pace of implementation of the Mérida Initiative. On December 3, 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a preliminary report for Congress on the status of funding for the Mérida Initiative. By the end of September 2009, GAO found that $830 million of the $1.3 billion in Mérida funds appropriated for Mexico and Central America had been obligated by the State Department, but only $26 million of the funds had actually been spent. The pace of implementation has accelerated since that time, particularly in Mexico, but implementation challenges remain. 

For FY2010, the Obama Administration requested $450 million in Mérida funding for Mexico and $100 million for Central America. On December 13, 2009, Congress passed the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3288/P.L. 111-117), which allows for $210.3 million for Mexico and $83 million for Central America under a new Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). These Mexico (Mérida) and Central America (CARSI) funds are subject to the same human rights conditions as those provided in P.L. 111-8. Congress also provided $37 million in P.L. 111-117 for a new Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). 

During its second session, the 111th Congress is likely to maintain a strong interest in how well U.S. agencies and their foreign counterparts are implementing the Mérida Initiative and the degree to which the nations involved are fulfilling their domestic obligations under Mérida. Congress may also monitor enforcement of Mérida's human rights conditions, particularly with respect to Mexico. Congress is likely to play a role in the design of post-Mérida security cooperation with Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Basin during its consideration of the Obama Administration's FY2011 budget request. This report provides an overview of the funding provided for the Mérida Initiative, the status of Mérida implementation, and a discussion of some policy issues that Congress may consider as it oversees the Initiative. For related information, see CRS Report RL32724, Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress, and CRS Report R40582, Mexico's Drug-Related Violence.

Date of Report: January 21, 2010
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R40135
Price: $29.95

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