Washington, DC – By a vote of 311 to 106, the House today passed legislation by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-CA) authorizing for three years the Merida Initiative, a U.S. counter-narcotics assistance package for Mexico and Central America to help stop the flow of illegal drugs and the violence that the drug trade has spawned along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“With this authorization of the Merida Initiative, we demonstrate our nation’s commitment to work closely with our friends and neighbors to the south, in a meaningful and long-term fashion, to battle illegal narcotics and drug-related violence,” Berman said.

The legislation (H.R. 6028) authorizes $1.6 billion for counter-narcotics work for law enforcement modernization, fighting organized crime, institution-building and support for the rule of law. Responding to a request from Mexican authorities, the bill includes almost $74 million to bolster U.S. efforts in stemming the illegal flow of arms going south by significantly expanding ATF’s Project Gunrunner.

“President Felipe Calderon of Mexico made a brave decision early in his presidency to fight illegal narcotics in a way that no Mexican government has done before,” Berman noted.  “And he and his countrymen have paid a high price for it. Drug cartels have been blamed for 6000 deaths in two and a half years in Mexico alone -- 4000 of them in the year and a half since Mr. Calderon assumed the Presidency. A significant percentage of these deaths are law enforcement personnel, outgunned and outspent from the proceeds of illegal drugs. There seems to be no limit to the brazenness of the drug gangs: A month ago, the Chief of Mexico’s federal police was shot dead in his own home.  It’s high time for the United States to do more than applaud President Calderon’s courage.  We must work together to tackle this difficult problem.” 

The legislation contains significant human rights safeguards, including a stringent requirement to investigate allegations of human rights violations committed by anyone receiving assistance under the Merida Initiative. It concentrates resources on equipment and training, and does not include cash payments of any kind. And it creates a position for a coordinator to harmonize both responsibility and accountability for the Merida Initiative’s wide-ranging programs.

“The central tenet of this bill is that while the violence must stop and security must be restored, the ultimate solution to this problem lies in respect for the rule of law and the strength of the institutions charged with upholding it,” Berman said. “H.R. 6028 represents the U.S. implementation of a new partnership with Mexico and Central American countries to face the immediate security threat of drug gangs, help our neighbors build the capacity of their law enforcement agencies, and enhance the rule of law in the region.”

Related Coverage
Remarks on the House floor by Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on his legislation H.R. 6028, authorizing the Merida Initiative
Associated Press coverage
Reuters coverage