Canada To Train Mexican Officers Fighting Drug Cartels

Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shake hands during a summit of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. (Photo by Alfredo Guerrero)Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shake hands during a summit of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. (Photo by Alfredo Guerrero)Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Sunday that Canada will train Mexican police officers to assist Mexico in its brutal war against rival drug cartels.

The announcement came as the prime minister touched down here for a two-day summit with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Security will be one of the issues on the agenda at the so-called Three Amigos Summit, along with the global recession, the swine-flu outbreak and climate change.

Through the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, Canada will invest as much as $15 million a year in projects across the Americas that combat the illicit drug trade, corruption, human trafficking and other regional problems.

Slightly more than $430,000 will go to Mexico to help it fight its drug war, which claimed more than 6,000 people last year, almost double the number of deaths in the previous year.

Global drug cartels in Mexico have been feuding over access to the lucrative North American market. The U.S. State Department, for example, estimates that 90 per cent of the cocaine that enters the United States flows through Mexico.

Calderon has staked his presidency on his government’s aggressive response, vowing to defeat the cartels by the time his term ends in 2012. After taking office in late 2006, Calderon sent thousands of troops to back up the police in drug-trafficking hot spots.

Under the program announced Sunday, the RCMP will train 300 mid-level Mexican police officers with the help of the United States and other countries. The Mounties will also train 32 new police commanders in such areas as police management, investigation and intelligence skills.

A government official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity said the Canadian government could provide more funding if Mexico requests it.

Funding for the program had already been earmarked in the January federal budget.

Harper met with Calderon in a bilateral meeting Sunday, where the most contentious topic between the two was expected to be the Canadian government’s recent decision to impose visas on all Mexican nationals entering Canada.

Mexican sources have told Canwest News Service that Calderon was to press Harper to drop the visa restrictions, but at a briefing for reporters Friday, a spokesman for the prime minister said that did not appear to be in the cards.

In announcing last month that all Mexican nationals entering Canada would require visas, the Harper government pointed to an increasing number of bogus refugee claims from Mexico.

After meeting Calderon, Harper will attend a working dinner with Obama and the Mexican president.

Harper won’t meet one-on-one with Obama at the two-day Mexico summit. But the Prime Minister’s Office announced Friday that Harper will visit Obama at the White House on Sept. 16, a week before the two leaders head to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

It will be the first time that Harper has visited Obama at the White House since the president was inaugurated in January. Obama made Ottawa his first foreign visit in February.

One of the other key issues in Guadalajara will be the United States’ use of “Buy American” provisions that require contractors to use raw materials and equipment made in the U.S. as part of the stimulus package in that country.

Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the prime minister raises the issue with Obama. Last week, the provincial and territorial premiers voiced their support for Ottawa’s efforts to push back against the Buy American policy.

But it does not appear Harper will propose a formal agreement on protectionism with the U.S. at this summit.

“Fighting protectionism, especially during this time of global recession, has been one of Canada’s main messages consistently (and) at every opportunity at every summit,” said Soudas.

“So we welcome the work the provinces are doing on this issue, and (Trade) Minister (Stockwell) Day will continue working with them.”

The visa issue, which has incensed Mexican officials and provoked an uproar in the Mexican media, was to top Calderon’s agenda in his bilateral meeting with Harper, according to a Mexican government source.

The Mexican president was expected to propose a number of alternatives, such as enhanced screening by Mexican authorities of travellers to Canada, as well as a crackdown on immigration brokers who urge Mexicans to seek asylum in Canada in exchange for a fee.

If Harper stands his ground, as Mexican officials expect, Calderon hasn’t ruled out imposing a similar blanket visa requirement on all Canadians travelling to Mexico.

After the Mexico summit, Harper will fly to Panama, where he is expected to sign a free-trade agreement with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. It will be the first time a Canadian prime minister has visited Panama.

– Article from Global News on August 9, 2009.