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Tuesday, May 4, 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 and other criminal groups is threatening citizen security in Mexico and Central America. Drug trafficking-related violence claimed more than 6,500 lives in Mexico in 2009, and several Central American countries have among the world's highest homicide rates. Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) dominate the illicit drug market in the United States and are expanding their operations by forming partnerships with U.S. gangs. 

On October 22, 2007, the United States and Mexico announced the Mérida Initiative, a package of U.S. counterdrug and anticrime assistance for Mexico and Central America that would begin in FY2008 and last through FY2010. Congress has appropriated some $1.3 billion for Mérida programs in Mexico, $248 million for Mérida and related programs in Central America, and $42 million for Caribbean countries in P.L. 110-252, P.L. 111-8, P.L. 111-32, and, most recently, in the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, P.L. 111-117. Each of these acts contains human rights conditions on 15% of certain law enforcement and military assistance provided to Mexico and Central America. P.L. 111-117 places Central America funding into a new Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which splits Central America from the Mérida Initiative. The act also provides $37 million for a new Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). 

Throughout 2009, drug trafficking-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 as of that time 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, with at least $113 million worth of equipment having arrived in Mexico by March 2010, but implementation challenges remain. 

The 111th Congress is maintaining 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 has also monitored enforcement of Mérida's human rights conditions, particularly with respect to Mexico. Congress is playing 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. For FY2011, the Administration has asked for $310 million in assistance for Mérida programs in Mexico, $100 million for CARSI, and $79 million for CBSI. Detailed strategy documents for CARSI and CBSI are not yet available, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new strategy for U.S.-Mexican security cooperation after a high-level meeting in Mexico City on March 23, 2010. The plan focuses on (1) disrupting organized criminal groups; (2) institutionalizing the rule of law; (3) building a 21st-century border; and (4) building strong and resilient communities. 

This report provides an overview of the funding provided for the Mérida Initiative and related assistance programs in Central America and the Caribbean, the status of Mérida implementation, and a discussion of some policy issues that Congress may consider as it oversees the initiative and related programs.

Date of Report: April 19, 2010
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R40135
Price: $29.95

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