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Thursday, January 31, 2013

U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond



Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Kristin M. Finklea
Analyst in Domestic Security


Brazen violence perpetrated by drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and other criminal groups is threatening citizen security and governance in some parts of Mexico, a country with which the United States shares a nearly 2,000 mile border and $460 billion in annual trade. Although the violence in Mexico has generally declined since late 2011, analysts estimate that it may have claimed more than 60,000 lives over the last six years. The violence has increased U.S. concerns about stability in Mexico, a key political and economic ally, and about the possibility of violence spilling over into the United States. Mexican DTOs dominate the U.S. illicit drug market and are considered the greatest drug trafficking threat facing the United States.

U.S.-Mexican security cooperation has increased significantly as a result of the development and implementation of the Mérida Initiative, a counterdrug and anticrime assistance package for Mexico and Central America first funded in FY2008. Whereas U.S. assistance initially focused on training and equipping Mexican counterdrug forces, it now places more emphasis on addressing the weak institutions and underlying societal problems that have allowed the drug trade to flourish in Mexico. The Mérida strategy now focuses on: (1) disrupting organized criminal groups, (2) institutionalizing the rule of law, (3) building a 21
st century border, and (4) building strong and resilient communities. As part of the Mérida Initiative, the Mexican government pledged to intensify its anticrime efforts and the U.S. government pledged to address drug demand and the illicit trafficking of firearms and bulk currency to Mexico.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to continue U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, albeit with a new focus on reducing violent crime in Mexico. Peña Nieto has reformed the structure of Mexico’s security apparatus, placing the Federal Police and intelligence services under the authority of the Interior Secretary. He also intends to create a gendarmerie (militarized police) to gradually replace military forces engaged in public security efforts and to help states form unified police commands. Peña Nieto’s security strategy prioritizes crime prevention and human rights protection; it also seeks to advance judicial reform. As the Peña Nieto government adjusts Mexico’s security strategy, bilateral efforts and U.S. programs may need to be adjusted. Mexico’s new administration also supports efforts to enact gun control in the United States.

The 113
th Congress is likely to continue funding and overseeing the Mérida Initiative and related domestic initiatives, but may also consider supporting new programs. From FY2008-FY2012, Congress appropriated $1.9 billion in Mérida assistance for Mexico, roughly $1.1 billion of which had been delivered as of November 2012. The Obama Administration asked for an additional $234.0 million in Mérida assistance for Mexico in its FY2013 budget request. Congress has also debated how to measure the impact of Mérida Initiative programs, as well as the extent to which Mérida has adequately evolved to respond to changing security conditions in Mexico. Another issue of congressional interest has involved whether Mexico is meeting the human rights conditions placed on Mérida Initiative funding.


Date of Report: January 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: R41349
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Venezuela: Issues for Congress



Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Under the rule of populist President Hugo Chávez, first elected in 1998, Venezuela has undergone enormous political changes, with a new constitution and unicameral legislature, and even a new name for the country, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the deterioration of democratic institutions and threats to freedom of expression under the Chávez government. President Chávez won reelection to another six-year term on October 7, 2012, by a margin of 11%, capturing about 55% of the vote compared to 44% for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. On December 11, 2012, however, Chávez faced a fourth difficult operation in Cuba for an undisclosed form of cancer that has raised questions about Venezuela’s political future. Because of significant health complications, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on January 8, 2013, that President Chávez would not be sworn into office on January 10 as planned, but that he would be sworn into office at a later date, a decision supported by Venezuela’s Supreme Court. Looking ahead, if President Chávez does not recover, the Constitution calls for a new election to be held within 30 days if the president dies or is incapacitated during the first four years of his term. 

U.S. Policy 


The United States traditionally has had close relations with Venezuela, a major supplier of foreign oil, but there has been friction in relations under the Chávez government. Over the years, U.S. officials have expressed concerns about human rights, Venezuela’s military arms purchases, its relations with Iran, and its efforts to export its brand of populism to other Latin American countries. Declining cooperation on anti-drug and anti-terrorism efforts has been a major concern. The United States has imposed sanctions: on several Venezuelan government and military officials for allegedly helping the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with drug and weapons trafficking; on three Venezuelan companies for providing support to Iran; and on several Venezuelan individuals for providing support to Hezbollah. Despite tensions in relations, the Obama Administration remains committed to seeking constructive engagement with Venezuela, focusing on such areas as anti-drug and counter-terrorism efforts. In the aftermath of President Chávez’s reelection, the White House, while acknowledging differences with President Chávez, congratulated the Venezuelan people on the high level of participation and the relatively peaceful election process. 

Legislative Initiatives 


As in past years, there were concerns in the 112
th Congress regarding the state of Venezuela’s democracy and human rights situation and its deepening relations with Iran, and these concerns will likely continue in the 113th Congress. The 112th Congress approved H.R. 3783 (P.L. 112- 220), which requires the Administration to conduct an assessment and present “a strategy to address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.” Other initiatives that were not approved include: H.R. 2542, which would have withheld some assistance to the Organization of American States unless that body took action to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter regarding the status of democracy in Venezuela; H.R. 2583, which included a provision prohibiting aid to the government of Venezuela; and H.Res. 247, which would have called on the Secretary of State to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism.

In action on FY2013 foreign aid appropriations, the report to the House Appropriations Committee bill, H.R. 5857 (H.Rept. 112-494, reported May 25, 2012), directs that $5 million in

Economic Support Funds be provided for democracy programs in Venezuela, the same amount appropriated in FY2012, and $2 million more than requested by the Administration. In contrast, the report to the Senate Appropriations Committee bill, S. 3241 (S.Rept. 112-172, reported May 24, 2012), recommends $3 million for democracy programs in Venezuela to be administered by the National Endowment for Democracy. Ultimately, the 112th Congress did not complete action on a FY2013 full-year foreign operations appropriations measure, but it did approve a Continuing Appropriations Resolution, FY2013 (P.L. 112-175) in September 2012, which funds regular foreign aid accounts at the same level as in FY2012, plus 0.612% through March 27, 2013. Specific country accounts, however, are left to the discretion of responsible agencies. The 113th Congress will need to address foreign aid appropriations for the balance of FY2013.

Date of Report: January 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 65
Order Number: R40938
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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Latin America and the Caribbean: U.S. Policy and Key Issues for Congress in 2012



Mark P. Sullivan, Coordinator
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Anne Leland
Information Research Specialist

Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs


Geographic proximity has ensured strong linkages between the United States and the Latin American and Caribbean region, with diverse U.S. interests, including economic, political and security concerns. U.S. policy toward the region under the Obama Administration has focused on four priorities: promoting economic and social opportunity; ensuring citizen security; strengthening effective democratic institutions; and securing a clean energy future. There has been substantial continuity in U.S. policy toward the region under the Obama Administration, which has pursued some of the same basic policy approaches as the Bush Administration. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has made several significant policy changes, including an overall emphasis on partnership and shared responsibility.

U.S. policy toward the region must also contend with a Latin America that is becoming increasingly independent from the United States. Strong economic growth has increased Latin America’s confidence in its ability to solve its own problems. The region has also diversified its economic and diplomatic ties with countries outside the region. Over the past few years, several Latin American regional organization organizations have been established that do not include the United States.

Congress plays an active role in policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Legislative and oversight attention to the region during the 112
th Congress focused on the continued increase in drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico and U.S. assistance to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative; efforts to help Central American and Caribbean countries contend with drug trafficking and violent crime; as well as continued counternarcotics and security support to Colombia. The January 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, continued to focus congressional attention on the enormous task of disaster recovery and reconstruction. As in past years, U.S. sanctions on Cuba, particularly restrictions on travel and remittances, remained a contentious issue in the debate over how to support change in one of the world’s last remaining communist nations. Another area of congressional oversight was the deterioration of democracy in several Latin American countries, especially Nicaragua and Venezuela. Congressional concern also increased about Iran’s growing relations in the region, especially with Venezuela, and about the activities of Hezbollah.

This report provides an overview of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012, including the Obama Administration’s priorities for U.S. policy and a brief comparison of policies under the Obama and Bush Administrations. It then examines congressional interest in Latin America, first providing an overview, and then looking at selected countries and regional issues and key policy issues faced by Congress in 2012. The final section of the report analyzes several key events in the region that took place in 2012: the Pope’s trip to Cuba in March, the sixth Summit of the Americas in April, Mexico’s elections in July, and Venezuela’s upcoming elections in October. An appendix provides a listing of hearings in the 112
th Congress focused on Latin America. For additional information and access to over 30 CRS reports on the region, see the CRS Issues in Focus webpage on “Latin America and the Caribbean.”


Date of Report: December 21, 2012
Number of Pages: 28
Order Number: R42360
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Friday, January 4, 2013

Chile: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations



Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Chile has consistently maintained friendly relations with the United States since its transition back to civilian democratic rule in 1990. Serving as a reliable but independent ally, Chile has worked with the United States to advance democracy, human rights, and trade in the Western Hemisphere. Chile and the United States also maintain strong bilateral commercial ties. Total bilateral trade in goods and services has nearly tripled to $29.2 billion since the implementation of a free trade agreement in 2004. Additional areas of cooperation between the United States and Chile include supporting regional stability and promoting clean energy development. 

Political Situation 


Sebastián Piñera of the center-right “Coalition for Change” was inaugurated to a four-year presidential term in March 2010. Piñera’s electoral victory was the first for the Chilean right since 1958, and brought an end to 20 years of governance by a center-left coalition of parties known as the Concertación. Piñera’s coalition lacks majorities in both houses of the Chilean Congress, however, and he must secure the support of opposition or unaffiliated legislators to advance his agenda. This need for cross-coalition appeal has contributed to considerable policy continuity. While Piñera has won legislative support for a variety of policy reforms, he has struggled in dealing with a series of popular protests over issues ranging from energy policy to the education system. The Chilean populace has resorted to such tactics to demonstrate its increasing dissatisfaction with the country’s political system, which it views as unresponsive to citizen demands. As the generalized sense of discontent has spread, Piñera’s approval rating has steadily declined. In September 2012, 32% of Chileans approved of Piñera’s performance in office while 57% disapproved. Although the majority of the public also disapproves of the opposition Concertación, it outperformed Piñera’s coalition in municipal elections held in October 2012. 

Economic Conditions 


According to many analysts, Chile has the most competitive and fundamentally sound economy in Latin America. In 2011, the country had a gross domestic product (GDP) of $248 billion and a per capita GDP of $14,403—the highest in the region. Chile’s economic success stems from policies implemented over several decades that have opened the country to investment, secured access to foreign markets, and mitigated the effects of external shocks. In recent years, this solid policy framework has helped the Chilean economy weather the global financial crisis and a massive February 2010 earthquake. After a 0.9% contraction in 2009, the Chilean economy grew by 6.1% in 2010, 5.9% in 2011, and is projected to grow by 5.0% in 2012. Strong economic growth—paired with targeted social assistance programs—has also contributed to a significant decline in the poverty rate, which fell from 38.8% in 1989 to 14.4% in 2012. High levels of inequality have persisted, however, leading to some popular discontent with Chile’s otherwise strong economic performance. 

Congressional Action 


Congress has expressed interest in a variety of issues in U.S.-Chilean relations over the years. The 113
th Congress could take up matters such as the U.S.-Chile bilateral income tax treaty, which was signed in 2010 and was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification in May 2012 (Treaty Doc. 112-8). Ongoing negotiations over the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade
agreement, which includes Chile, the United States, and at least nine other nations in the Asia- Pacific region, may also attract congressional attention.

This report provides a brief historical background of Chile, examines recent political and economic developments, and considers current issues in U.S.-Chilean relations.


Date of Report: December 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: R40126
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