While U.S. cities, towns, & counties are struggling to maintain law enforcement services, delaying hiring additional needed officers, and putting off purchasing much needed equipment and vehicles, the federal government is giving away billions of dollars in aid to law enforcement agencies in Central & South America.
Through “The Merida Initiative” signed into law by former President George W. Bush on June 30, 2008 the U.S. Dept. of State is signing “letters of agreement”, that will eventually disburse $1.4 billion U.S. taxpayer funds, with several foreign countries. Countries that have received the aid include Belize, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.
On December 3, 2008 the U.S. Embassy in Mexico issued a press release from Ambassador Antonio O. Garza that announced he signed a letter of agreement with the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Relations that in addition to providing millions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers to be used by Mexican law enforcement agencies, will provide at least 8 BlackHawk helicopters to the Mexican military.
In relation to the BlackHawk helicopters that were promised to Mexico, Congress members Nita Lowery, Democrat, and Republicans Kay Granger & Jerry Lewis complained that the Pentagon has delayed the delivery of the helicopters.
In testimony before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations & Related Programs of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations on March 10, 2009, Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that because of the aid Mexican police agencies are receiving from the U.S. through the Merida Initiative criminal organizations in Mexico are now brazenly targeting police, military, and other security service personnel with graphic displays of violence such as public executions & beheadings.
Additional Congressional testimony was given by David Johnson, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics & Law Enforcement, who said that Mexican authorities have estimated that more than 6,200 people were killed in drug related violence including 522 civilian law enforcement officers & military personnel in 2008.
Johnson also testified that U.S. federal law enforcement authorities estimate that Mexican based criminal organizations are present in at least 230 U.S. cities.
On February 5, 2009 the State Dept. announced that the U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, Stephen McFarland, signed a letter of agreement with the Guatemalan Ministry of Governmental Affairs to provide $3,650,000 in fiscal year 2008, the first year of the Merida Initiative, and obligates the U.S. to provide an additional $550,000 to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.
As for 2008, Guatemalan law enforcement officers will participate in 5 projects that will be fully funded by U.S. taxpayers: the Central American Fingerprint Initiative ($400,000), the Central American Vetted & Sensitive Investigative Units ($500,000), the Transnational Anti-gang Initiative ($1,225,000), Improved Policing & Police Equipment programs ($975,000), Improved Prison Management programs ($550,000).
On February 10, 2009 the State Dept. announced that a letter of agreement was signed with the Belizean Ministry of National Security to provide $150,000 to be used for the Central American Fingerprint Exchange; $608,000 for improved policing & police equipment; and $250,000 for improved prison management.
On March 13, 2009 the State Dept. signed a letter of agreement with the Panamanian Ministry of the Presidency that will provide an initial payment of $2,011,000 from U.S. taxpayers in 2008 that will be used by Panamanian law enforcement agencies in the following areas: participation in the Central American Fingerprint Exchange program ($300,000), the Central American Vetted & Sensitive Investigation Units ($1,000,000), Improved Policing & Police Equipment ($613,000), Improved Prison Management ($100,000).
In addition, a second letter of agreement will be signed with Panama that will provide U.S. funds for the targeting of “at risk youth” & anti-gang programs, community policing & “demand reduction”.
For more information on the Merida Initiative visit the State Department’s web-site and search for “Merida Initiative”.