Helicopters for what?
A big chunk of them money will go to purchase helicopters and other equipment for Mexico, but as Chairman Tom Lantos in his opening statement questioned:
$208 million of the proposed $500 million package for Mexico is for helicopters. The question remains, what are the mission requirements of these helicopters? How will Mexico use the aircraft? What restrictions do we contemplate putting on the use of the aircraft? How will we monitor the use of the aircraft?Indeed, Lantos pointed out, we've done this before:
This is not the first attempt to provide helicopters for counter-drug use. Twelve years ago, 73 helicopters were given to Mexico. They were used, and did not work well, and we ended up with the Mexicans giving them back to us. The Mexican military also singularly dislikes end-use monitoring requirements, without which Congress will not approve the measure.I guess it's true that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Besides helicopters, the Bush administration proposes giving the Mexican government all sorts of additional high-tech equipment and assist creating national criminal databases comparable to in the United States. It seems highly unlikely such grand goals can be completed within budget.
Is there an exit strategy?
Lantos also questioned whether the initiative represents an open ended commitment or a finite one:
The reports in the media are that this is a three-year plan. We are currently in the seventh year of Plan Colombia with no end in sight. Is the Mexico plan equally open-ended? How will we define and how will we measure success? From where will subsequent money come for this plan? Latin American assistance budgets have been steadily declining and a very large portion of the amounts Latin America does get are taken up by Plan Colombia. Will ’09 money for this plan also be taken from existing Latin American funds?I don't think anyone can credibly say drug importation will have ceased in three years since we've not accomplished that task in the last 82. The $1.5 billion shouldn't be considered the cost of the initiative, IMO - it's more like an ante required to get into a no-limit game.
Will we just be training more Zetas?
Finally, the chairman made a veiled reference to Los Zetas, Mexican paramilitary commandos trained by the US at Fort Benning, GA, who went on to work for the drug cartels, suggesting that the plan does not include sufficient safeguards to prevent that from happening again, declaring:
Training is an important part of this program, and training is a very important element in stemming the flow of drugs. But it is reported that prior counter-drug training resulted in a significant number of individuals, well-trained, becoming members of drug traffickers’ military units – and as a result of our training, using sophisticated military tactics, intelligence-gathering and operational training. Training can be dangerous because it can make corrupt forces more effective.I'm glad Lantos raised this: How can America be sure we're not training and arming corrupt Mexican police and military personnel? Not only is it precisely the right question to ask, it should be asked first before we start training and arming Mexican police and military who we don't know and can't thoroughly trust.