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Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative: Policy Twins or Distant Cousins?

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Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative:

Policy Twins or Distant Cousins?1

John Bailey

(February 9, 2009)

In October 2007 presidents George W. Bush (US) and Felipe Calderón (Mexico) announced the Mérida Initiative, a joint undertaking to confront growing challenges by organized crime, especially drug-trafficking organizations, to democratic governability in the region.2 Named after the city where they had met in March 2007 (along with Guatemalan president Oscar Berger-Perdomo), the “Mérida Initiative” (MI) quickly drew comparisons with “Plan Colombia” (PC), which also targeted trafficking-related crime and violence. Labeling it the “Plan Mérida,” some critics pointed to flaws in PC, such as undermining of national sovereignty; insufficient attention to socioeconomic development; failure to reduce drug production and trafficking; and inadequate attention to human rights violations, especially by government forces. Proponents of the MI, on the other hand, were quick to emphasize a major difference between PC and the MI (especially that no US military personnel would be stationed on Mexican territory), and some also pointed to successful lessons from PC that might apply to the MI.

As is customary in controversial policy debates, symbolic politics takes center stage. Plan Colombia is reduced to a symbol of US imperialism and human rights oppression, or of international cooperation to resist narco-guerrilla terrorism, depending upon one’s point of view. The purpose of this paper is: (1) to compare and contrast the policies with respect to country contexts, problem profiles, and a series of programmatic features; and (2) to consider “policy learning” and implications for security alliances.

Are PC and the MI policy twins or are they distant cousins? I argue that they are more like half-brothers. As the common partner, the US emphasizes a supply-oriented, anti-drugs security policy. But Colombia and Mexico are quite different partners. As the older brother, PC is a response to a problem context that differs from Mexico’s in important respects. Also, some policy learning has occurred since 2000, and US perceptions of its own responsibilities have evolved, at least at the level of discourse. With respect to the colloquium’s theme of crises and alliances, both PC and the MI are responses to perceived crises, and they produce ad hoc bilateral and sub-regional alliances. The interesting issue is whether the ad hoc responses may evolve into a more coherent regional or multilateral security architecture.

Country contexts and policy characteristics

Some key points about country contexts and policy characteristics are set out in Table 1 and can only be summarized here. To begin with the obvious, Mexico is a much bigger policy partner than Colombia. In comparative terms, Mexico is more than twice as populous as Colombia, has over forty percent more land area, more than five times the gross domestic product (GDP), and more than three times the central government budget outlays. Colombia is a unitary system (but with significant decentralization), while Mexico is federal. One of the implications is the much greater complexity of Mexico’s police-justice system. Colombia has a national police, closely tied to the army. Mexico relies much more on state and local police forces, with a comparatively small national force. Due to acute, systemic problems of corruption and incompetence in the civilian police-justice system, the Mexican army has been assigned a lead role in anti-drug law enforcement. The army’s role, however, is more improvised than institutionalized. There are two implications to note: first, the Mexican army is among the most closed of national institutions in terms of transparency and accountability; second, it has a long history of an anti-US institutional culture. The lead role of the Mexican army creates a further complication: it reinforces the US tendency to militarize anti-drug security policies. Above all, Mexico shares a 2,000-mile land border with the United States, which—among other things—puts its internal security situation higher on the US policy agenda.

Table 1 about here

The problem profiles of the two countries also differ in important respects. To be sure, violence associated with organized crime is a significant challenge in both countries, but in quite different contexts. If we take 1948 as a point of reference, Colombia entered (or perhaps re-entered) a phase of profound internal war, while Mexico began a long phase of consolidating internal peace based on the hegemonic rule of the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI). Insurgency forces (especially the FARC) have waged a forty-year armed struggle against the Colombian government, with varieties of rightist self-defense forces multiplying and complicating the violence. One estimate suggests that in 2006 the FARC controlled approximately 30 percent of national territory (CRS 2008b, p. 6). Colombia’s primary challenge is to terminate the internal wars.

In contrast, guerrilla insurgency is not an issue in Mexico. The Zapatistas are a minor regional rebellion, confined mostly to parts of the state of Chiapas on the far southern border with Guatemala. Mexico’s key challenge is a sharp upsurge in criminal violence beginning in about 2005 and escalating in subsequent years.3 It is associated with drug trafficking in the sense of trans-national smuggling and retail distribution to the rapidly-growing internal drug markets. The confluence of rivers of drug money, trained manpower, and high-power weapons has produced well-organized, politically-effective, hyper-violent trafficking organizations that are capable of challenging the government’s police-justice system and the army. While most of the violence is concentrated in a few (perhaps five or six) of the 32 states, the trafficking organizations can strike anywhere in the country and almost at will.4 In comparison, the height of Colombia’s drug gang violence was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since that time the trafficking organizations have adopted lower-profile, less violent methods. In summary, Colombia is a case of a complicated internal war in which drug production and trafficking play a significant role; Mexico is a case of hyper-violent criminal organizations that use terrorist-like methods to challenge the government and society.

The origins of PC and MI are rather different. As originally proposed by president Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), Plan Colombia covered five areas: the peace process, economic growth, anti-drug production and trafficking, reform of justice and protection of human rights, and democracy-promotion and social development. Pastrana sought assistance from the European Union and a number of other countries. Following an internal debate, the US government (USG) emphasized the anti-narcotics theme to the point that other countries were reluctant to participate. Pastrana’s original logic (shared by various other international actors) was that a negotiated peace could set the stage for economic development, institutional reform, and conditions to reduce drug trafficking. The USG, in contrast, insisted that solving the drug issue would starve the resources to FARC and other insurgency groups and hasten the end to the war. Other themes, such as human rights and the peace process were secondary (Chernick, 2008, p. 129-137).5 In all this, the USG played an active—even intrusive—role.

With respect to MI, in contrast, the George W. Bush administration made a conspicuous effort not to take the initiative but to respond to Mexico (and subsequently to the Central American and Caribbean countries). This is because, given the long history of intervention (perceived or real), USG initiatives in sensitive areas of public security and law enforcement would arouse Mexican nationalist responses that would be fatal to the Initiative. Also, President Calderón’s government was more narrowly focused on repressing drug-related criminal violence, a focus that the USG shared.

The resulting policies thus differ in scope and targets. Even in its narrower version, PC included democracy-promotion and institutional development, with more ambitious components of economic development (e.g., crop substitution), and some attention to human rights. The policy targets reflect the US interpretation of the problem context. Originally, PC focused on anti-drugs programs. Following September 11, 2001, the US policy shifted to include strong attention to anti-terrorism, with more active support for initiatives against the FARC and self-defense forces. Those targets put more attention on the Colombian army and police, and themes of air mobility and operational intelligence. Primary attention in PC went to Colombia, with comparatively minor funding to Ecuador and Peru. Though subject to review by the Barak Obama administration, MI will likely remain more narrowly focused on internal security and institution-building in law enforcement and justice administration. The language of anti-narcotics terror can be found in MI documents, and the main targets are trafficking organizations, security along the border, and institution building. Human rights was a sensitive issue because of Mexico’s rejection of assistance conditioned on standards imposed by the USG. Although initially focused on Mexico and Central America, MI was subsequently broadened to include Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

With respect to time and money, PC ran from 2000 to 2006, and was followed by a similar set of policies in a PC, Phase II (2006-2011). The USG spent about US$4.5 billion through 2006 and $6.1 billion through 2008 (CRS 2008b). The current debate in the USG concerns reducing US support and encouraging greater burden-bearing by the Colombian government. As originally announced, USG commitment to the MI runs through 2010, although US officials intimate a longer-term commitment. Set originally in the US$1.5 billion range for 2008-2010, USG financial commitment is presently uncertain and subject to debate in the current congress. Given Mexico’s much larger economy and public sector budget, the dollar amounts of US assistance will likely be relatively small, which will reduce the leverage that the USG can exercise in Mexican internal policies.

Finally, US commitments for its own internal policy are much greater in the case of MI—at least at the declaratory level—than for PC. US rhetoric calls for a “genuine partnership” with the MI countries. This should be underlined as a significant shift in policy toward much greater engagement in the regional security challenge and a stronger commitment to make internal adjustments to ameliorate conditions that exacerbate insecurity. More specifically, the USG commits itself to reduce drug demand, halt the flows of precursor chemicals and weapons into the region, and address problems of bulk cash smuggling and money laundering.

Policy learning and alliance possibilities

Plan Colombia evolved over the first half-decade of the 21st century, while the Merida Initiative began in December 2008. I argue that important policy learning occurred in PC’s implementation. Whether lessons learned will affect MI remains to be seen, but Mexican authorities have shown great interest in the Colombian experience. Also, the priority given to public security in various sub-regions of the Americas is a factor influencing options for various types of alliances. The Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, the so-called Rio Treaty of 1947, is generally regarded as an “institutional zombie” left over from the Cold War, a relic largely irrelevant to 21st-century regional security challenges. MI may become one of several factors shaping new alliance possibilities.

One lesson that Colombians emphasize is the need for a strategic approach to addressing internal violence.6 We can point to an important shift to strategic thinking and policy development in PC in about 2003, with president Alvaro Uribe and “Plan Patriota.” Gonzalo de Francisco (2006) identifies two distinct phases in drug trafficking in Colombia. In about 1980-1993, trafficking was characterized by major cartels that operated with coca base imported mainly from Bolivia and Peru. In the second phase, roughly 1990-2003, coca crops were cultivated on a large scale within Colombia, with cocaine produced and trafficked by smaller, less-confrontational criminal groups. He underlines the lack of a coherent government strategy to confront the guerrillas. “Missing from the public-policy agenda was a comprehensive, ongoing strategy, supported by all institutions and Colombian society itself, which could have impeded the growth of guerrilla forces” (de Francisco, 2006, 97). Rather than reacting to guerrilla initiatives in an ad hoc fashion, the Uribe government expanded the size and strengthened the operational capacity of the army and police, and adopted a harder, more proactive offensive against the insurgent forces.7 His government also developed a more integrated political-military-development approach, one which carries overtones of US policy in Iraq (clear, hold, consolidate). Thus, the successor policy to Plan Patriota is called Plan Consolidación (GAO, 2008, p. 11-14).

A second, and tragic, lesson is that the human rights violations associated with PC were unacceptably high. A coalition of human rights organizations reports that during 2000-2008, an estimated 20,000 were killed by paramilitary, guerrilla, and state forces, and more than 2 million persons were displaced. Most of the displaced took shelter in precarious camps around larger cities. Other reports put the number of internally displaced at more than 3 million, with another 500,000 Colombian refugees and asylum seekers outside the country (CRS, 2008b, p. 26). In all, “Colombia continues to face the most serious human rights crisis in the Hemisphere, in a rapidly shifting panorama of violence” (Haugaard, 2008, p.4). Clearly, effective human rights safeguards are needed for the MI, a point to which I return below.

A third lesson comes from the operational levels in PC. Over time, significant improvements were made in uses of intelligence, air mobility, communications and coordination, and organizational capacity (e.g., police special units) (GAO, 2008). Given the expanse and inaccessibility of much of Colombia’s territory, air mobility is critical. US General (ret.) Barry R McCaffrey reported: “Make no mistake—the key difference that US financial and military support has made in the past eight years is funding, training, maintaining, and managing a substantial increase (total rotary wing assets 260 aircraft) in the helicopter force available to the Colombian Police, the Army, the Air Force, the counter-drug forces, and the economic development community” (McCaffrey, 2007, p. 5-6). The improved mobility was supplemented by the creation of effective units such as the army’s Aviation Brigade and the creation of an army Counternarcotics Brigade and new mobile units in both the army and national police (GAO 2008, p. 27-30). Early indications are the MI will give priority to air mobility and strengthening the capacity of the Center for Research and National Security (CISEN), Mexico’s internal intelligence agency.

A fourth lesson concerns the long-standing US emphasis on supply-side strategies to reduce drug production and trafficking. For the US there is a growing awareness that such supply-side, anti-drug approaches are necessarily limited. Most of the rationale for PC from the US perspective was to curtail drug production and trafficking from Colombia. However, the US Congress’s independent audit agency reported bluntly: “Plan Colombia’s goal of reducing the cultivation, processing, and distribution of illegal narcotics by targeting coca cultivation was not achieved” (GAO, 2008, p. 17). The vast amounts of resources invested in crop eradication and interdiction have little lasting effect on the price and purity of illegal drugs in US markets. This finding should inform the internal political debate as a new administration takes office. The innovation with MI is an explicit commitment to invest more resources in demand reduction. The commitment, however, was not reflected in budget requests submitted by the Bush administration.

A fifth lesson for the US is the growing awareness that military forces and approaches have uses and limitations with respect to anti-trafficking operations and that institution-building with respect to police and justice administration is a lengthy, expensive challenge. Thus, the MI grants priority to reform police and justice administration in the participating countries (CRS, 2009, p. 16-19). My sense, however, is that US policy-makers do not grasp the enormity of the problems they confront. There are at least three priority issues. First, new approaches are needed that can combine military, police, intelligence, and socio-economic development capacities in a coherent strategy to deal with heavily armed, mobile, and politically astute trafficking organizations. Second, due largely to the incapacity and corruption of the civilian police, armies necessarily take the lead role in anti-trafficking operations in Mexico and several of the Central American and Caribbean countries. Third, operational intelligence is a key instrument against trafficking organizations, and this capacity is weak to nonexistent in the MI region.

Approaches that combine military, police, intelligence, and socio-economic development capacities might lead to institutional innovation of new types of national and transnational hybrid organizations (highly unlikely) or to much-improved inter-organizational coordination within and among the MI governments (also unlikely).8 Organizations are profoundly resistant to change. Part of the resistance is cultural: armies protect national sovereignty against other armies; they prefer not to be treated as internal police forces. Interagency coordination also implies uncertainty and struggles over credit-claiming; thus, part of the resistance is due to competition for scarce resources.

Beyond inter-agency and inter-governmental coordination is the question of forging a regional security strategy. A strategy implies setting priorities among goals over some time period, then translating the goals into tactical operations, and linking these to agency tasks and resources. Even a national strategy, as the Colombian government claims, would be a signal accomplishment. Much more common are official documents that list national goals, or regional operations that target a particular set of problems.

A second set of problems is over-reliance on armies, in good part due to police corruption and incompetence. One issue is that armies are usually not trained for internal policing (Bailey and Dammert, 2005). This can lead to ineffectiveness against organized crime or ordinary problems of public security. It can also lead to serious human rights abuses as military methods and weaponry (e.g., highway checkpoints, routine searches, interrogation) are brought to bear against civilian populations. This is especially the case if the military are exempt from civilian justice. Another issue is that reliance on the military can shift from a stop-gap measure to business as usual. This retards innovation by taking pressure off governments to move more aggressively on police-justice reform. Army involvement can also imply the inculcation of military organization and culture in shaping reformed police forces. Prolonged involvement also exposes the military to trafficking-related corruption.

Operational intelligence is the key to acting against organized crime. “Operational” means various types of information that specific government agencies can use to act against criminal organizations or activities. The information can be financial, for example, real estate transactions, purchase of luxury vehicles, tax administration, or money laundering. It can relate to the identification and location of a particular person or vehicle, which in turn requires accurate data bases. It often relies on communications intercepts and information provided by paid informants or government agents operating clandestinely. Whatever the type of information, operational intelligence requires organizations that can (1) analyze useful information effectively, (2) communicate the information to the appropriate law enforcement agency in a timely fashion, and (3) protect themselves from penetration by criminal organizations through corruption or infiltration. Ideally, the organizations are accountable to democratic oversight, operating within a functioning legal framework. We lack extensive research on intelligence agencies, but my sense is that they are weak to nonexistent in the MI region. Dammert (in FLACSO, 2007, 111-136) suggests that the Central American and Caribbean countries lag substantially behind Peru and the Southern Cone with respect to professionalism, inter-agency coordination, and democratic oversight. She ranks Guatemala and Costa Rica slightly above the neighboring countries (Ibid., p. 124).

Mexico is primus inter pares in MI’s “genuine partnership,” and the issues sketched above will present enormous challenges in implementing joint strategies against organized crime. Two leading Mexican jurists sum up their country’s institutional situation in especially bleak terms: “Any analysis of the Mexican criminal justice system must start from a certainty: It is so flawed we can say without fear of exaggeration that is it completely bankrupt” (Carbonell and Ochoa Reza, 2007, p. 20).9 Corruption in the police is comparatively widespread and reaches from the municipal preventive (uniformed) police to the top of key federal forces.10 Mexico’s internal intelligence agency, the CISEN, suffered neglect during the Vicente Fox administration (2000-2006) and is only recently getting substantial increases in resources.11 The Mexican army is overextended and carrying much of the battle against organized crime on its own.12 The government claims to employ a comprehensive strategy against organized crime, but its real strategy appears simpler and more straightforward: use the military to pulverize the trafficking organizations into smaller, less potent gangs so that state and local authorities can reclaim effective control over territory.13 In sum, the major interlocutor with the United States in the MI suffers severe institutional weaknesses that will require decades to remedy.

As noted above, the Rio Treaty has become largely irrelevant to contemporary security threats. In what ways might the MI influence longer-term and more institutionalized security alliances in the region? Both PC and the MI reinforce close interaction at the bilateral and sub-regional levels. The interesting question is whether these programs might interact with initiatives already underway, such as the Central America Integration System (SICA), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of the North American Free Trade Agreement, to cite relevant examples. Apart from these organizations, there is considerable consultation and interaction among countries.14 Also, the OAS has put public security high on its agenda and is also promoting regional consultations.15 Brazil is taking leadership on security cooperation in South America, although Venezuela has its own agenda. While there is still no clear path toward a regional architecture, the various “bottom-up” activities may generate momentum toward broader regional security alliances.


The Mérida Initiative demonstrates that corruption and violence related to organized crime have reached a critical level in the Caribbean Basin countries, and that the United States is beginning to redefine the problem from one of law enforcement to that of a significant threat to democratic governability in the region. In using the language of “genuine partnership,” pledging substantial resources, and committing itself to important domestic policy adjustments to help ameliorate insecurity in the region, the MI may represent a significant change. The obvious caveat is that the Initiative appeared relatively late in the George W. Bush administration, the responses to date are largely at the rhetorical level, and the Barak Obama administration has yet to define its policies toward the region.

Though it might be misplaced optimism, my sense is that policy learning has taken place over the past decade or so with respect to more effective ways to confront the violence and corruption associated with organized crime. The learning will be especially useful, because the challenges presented especially by drug-trafficking organizations have grown more ominous at the same time that police-justice-social development institutional infrastructure has deteriorated in much of the region.

Table 1. Contexts and Characteristics of Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative

Plan Colombia

Merida Initiative



Population 45 M*; 1.14 M. sq. km.; GDP=US$250B* (2008); GDP/cap=US$5,174; budget expend=US$65B; unitary, with significant decentralization; 32 departments, 1,100 counties

Population 110 M; 1.97 M. sq. km.; GDP=US$1,142B (2008); GDP/cap=US$10,747; budget expend=US$227B; federal, with 32 states, 1,400 counties

Problem profile

Major guerrilla insurgencies; generalized violence; major producer & trafficker of illicit drugs; limited central government presence; corruption in police-justice system

Minor regional rebellion; producer & major trafficker of illicit drugs; rapid upsurge in trafficking violence; localized challenges to government presence; acute corruption in police-justice system

Policy origins

1999-2000; US proactive in policy design

2007-2008; US reactive in policy design

Policy scope: goals & countries

Internal security & anti-trafficking; social justice; development. Primary= Colombia; secondary=Peru & Ecuador

Internal security; law enforcement & justice admin.; Primary=Mexico; secondary=Central America & Caribbean

Policy targets

Insurgency (FARC; ELN); self-defense organizations; drug crop eradication; criminal justice system; economic development (e.g., crop substitution)

Counter-drug; counter-terror; border security; public security & law enforcement; institution-building & rule of law

Time commitment

2000-2006; succeeded by similar follow-on policies

Fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2010, with indications of extension

US financial commitment

US$4.5B; US currently seeks reduced commitment

US$1.5 B announced; approx. 10% program costs; --- appropriated in 2008; negotiations expected in Congress in 2009.

US commitments for internal policy

Reduce drug demand

“Genuine partnership”; Reduce drug demand; halt: weapons trafficking, precursor chemicals, money laundering

Note: * M = million; B = Billion.

Sources: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2008; CIA World Factbook <>; CRS (2008); GAO (2008).


Bailey, John and Lucía Dammert. 2005. “Reforma policial y participación militar en el combate a la delincuencia. Análisis y desafíos para América Latina,” Revista Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad, 19:1 (enero-junio, 2005), 133-152.

Carbonell, Miguel and Enrique Ochoa Reza. 2007. “The Direction of Criminal Justice Reform in Mexico,” Voices of Mexico, (81), Sept.-Dec., 20-24.

CIP—Center for International Policy. 2006. “Plan Colombia—Six Year Later,” (Washington, D.C.: November).

Chernick, Marc. 2008. Acuerdo possible: Solución negociada al conflicto armado colombiano (Bogota: Ediciones Aurora).

CIA—Central Intelligence Agency, World Factbook (accessed on November 15, 2008).

Corporación Latinobarómetro. 2005. Informe latinobarómetro (available at:

CRS, 2006--Congressional Research Service, Plan Colombia: A Progress Report, CRS Report for Congress (RL32774, January 11).

CRS, 2008a—Congressional Research Service, Merida Initiative: US Anticrime and Counterdrug Assistance for Mexico and Central America, CRS Report for Congress (RL32250, July 7).

CRS, 2008b—Congressional Research Service, Colombia: Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress (RL32250, September 12).

CRS, 2009—Congressional Research Service, Mérida Initiative for Mexico and Central America: Funding and Policy Issues (R40135, January 13).

Dammert, Lucía. 2007. Reporte del sector seguridad en América Latina y el Caribe (Santiago, Chile: FLACSO).

GAO, 2008—United States Government Accountability Office, Plan Colombia: Drug Reduction Goals Were Not Fully Met, but Security has Improved; U.S. Agencies Need More Detailed Plans for Reducing Assistance (GAO-09-71; October).

de Francisco Z, Gonzalo. 2006. “Armed Conflict and Public Security in Colombia,” in John Bailey and Lucía Dammert, eds., Public Security and Police Reform in the Americas (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press), pp. 94-110.

Haugaard, Lisa, et al. 2008. A Compass for Colombia Policy (Washington, D.C., October).

McCaffrrey, Barry R. 2007. “Memorandum for: Colonel Mike Meese, United States Military Academy,” (October 3).

Selee, Andrew. 2008. Overview of the Merida Initiative (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, May); available at: (accessed on November 10, 2008).

Olson, Eric. 2008. Six Key Issues in U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation (unpublished paper, available at: (accessed on November 12, 2008).

PGR—Procuraduría General de la República. 2008. “Lineaminetos del nuevo modelo de política mexicana contra la delincuencia organizada,” (Febuary).

1 Revised version of a paper presented at the Institut des Ameriques, VI Colloque International, “Politique etrangere dans les Ameriques: Entre crises et alliances,” Paris, 21-22 Novembre 2008. Daniel Ortega-Nieto lent research assistance; Marc Chernick and Margaret Daly Hayes provided helpful suggestions but bear no responsibility for the result.

2 See Selee 2008 and CRS 2008a and CRS 2009 for detailed descriptions of the Mérida Initiative program components and finance.

3 A major Mexico City daily newspaper reports an escalation of deaths associated with organized crime violence: 2005, 1,537; 2006, 2,221; 2007, 2,673; 2008, 5,630. “’Narcoguerra’ alcanzó a civiles,” El Universal on line (January 1, 2009).

4 Drug gangs have employed numerous terrorist-like tactics such as beheadings and displays of threatening banners on streets and city squares. They have murdered top-level national and state police officials and scores of army personnel, including a retired army general who was about to assume police duties in a town in Quintana Roo. See “Ejecutan a general y escoltas en Cancún,” El Universal on line (February 4, 2009).

5 A US-based human rights group has reported: “For Planners of US assistance to Colombia, non-military programs have always been an afterthought. Four out of five dollars in US aid goes to Colombia’s armed forces, police, and fumigation program” (CIP, 2006, p. 5).

6 See, for example, a statement by Colombia’s defense minister: "’Recomendable, tener una política integral para combatir al narco’: Manuel Santos,” El Universal on line (November 29, 2006).

7 “[Uribe] voted not to negotiate with any of the armed groups until they declared a cease-fire and disarmed. In addition, Uribe implemented new laws giving the security forces increased power, and instituted a one-time tax to be used to increase the troop strength and capabilities of the Colombian military. He increasingly equated the guerrillas with drug traffickers and terrorists, and initiated a military campaign, called Plan Patriota, to recapture guerrilla-controlled territory” (CRS, 2006, p. 3).

8 The US Department of Homeland Security is a testament to the enormous difficulty of coordinating 22 agencies under one roof in one country. That said, the organizational experiment underway at the US Southern Command (Miami, Florida) and its operational task force based in Key West bears close scrutiny. The task force brings together US military, intelligence, and police agencies with those from several Caribbean and out-of-region countries. Southern Command authorities claim a number of successful joint operations against trafficking organizations. (Author interviews, November 2008).

9 President Calderón has been harshly critical of Mexico’s police-justice system as well. “Calderón sen~ala fallas en sistema de seguridad,” El Universal on line (October 2, 2008).

10 See, for example, “Corrupción frena el plan para reestructuar la PFP,” El Universal on line (January 21, 2009). The Corporación Latinobarómetro (2005), reports that the percentage of those surveyed who respond that they have a lot or some confidence in the police is a regional average of 37 percent. Chile is at the high end with 64 percent, and Mexico is near the low end with 22 percent.

11 See “Duplican el presupuesto para el Cisen,” El Universal on line (November 14, 2008).

12 As an important symptom, 347,055 soldiers deserted during 1985-2006. For the most part, these were enlisted personnel with only basic training in weapons and tactics; but the numbers included 2,754 officers as well. See “Desertaron 100 mil militares con Fox,” Milenio July 17, 2007.

13 The formal strategy can be gleaned from PGR (2008).

14 Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and Panama recently met to confer on regional anti-crime cooperation. See “Poyectan bloque regional anti-crimen,” El Universal on line (January 15, 2009). Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras border police cooperate to the point of using common uniforms.

15 I was surprised to see the extent of consultations on security issues already underway in Central America and the Caribbean, as reflected in the comments of the participants from those regions in a workshop, “Realizing Mérida’s Potential: Strategic Cooperation among Mexico, Central American and Caribbean States, and the United States,” held at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, June 26-27, 2008.

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