U.S. House Approves $470 Million in Drug-War Aid for Mexico

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a supplemental defense-spending bill that includes $470 million in aid to Mexico to fight drug trafficking.

By a vote of 368-60, lawmakers appropriated a total de $96.7 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and to improve the nation’s response to a possible swine-flu pandemic.

The version approved by the House will have to be reconciled with the bill that emerges from the Senate before the legislation can be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The funds earmarked for Mexico, part of the multibillion-dollar Merida initiative, will go to the purchase of maritime surveillance aircraft, four Black Hawk helicopters and computers, as well as to police training and other expenditures.

The bill sets aside another $350 million for the Pentagon to coordinate the actions of U.S. federal agencies operating on the border with Mexico to combat the drug cartels.

It is estimated that the helicopters could be delivered to Mexico by the beginning of December.

Mexico has been plagued in recent years by drug-related violence, with powerful cartels battling each other and the security forces, as rival gangs vie for control of lucrative smuggling and distribution routes.

Armed groups linked to Mexico’s drug cartels murdered around 1,500 people in 2006 and 2,700 people in 2007, with the 2008 death toll soaring to more than 6,000.

So far this year, according to press tallies, more than 2,330 people have died.

Since taking office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon has deployed more than 45,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police officers across Mexico in a bid to stem the violence.

Calderon has bristled at suggestions Mexico isn’t doing enough to stop the flow of narcotics, noting that the United States is the biggest consumer of illegal drugs shipped via Mexico and that the cartels are armed in large part with weapons sold by U.S. dealers and smuggled across the border.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged U.S. lawmakers in April to approve the supplemental spending bill, telling them that during her visit to Mexico the previous month it was apparent to her that that country’s army and police are outgunned by the cartels.

– Article from the Latin American Herald Tribune on May 17, 2009.