Foreign Policy In Focus Plan Mexico

Foreign Policy In Focus | Plan Mexico

Foreign Policy In Focus



Laura Carlsen |
October 30, 2007

Editor: John

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Policy In Focus

After months of talks, President George W.
Bush finally announced the “security cooperation” plan for
Mexico. On October 22, he sent a request for $500 million in
supplemental aid for 2008 as part of a $1.4 billion dollar
multi-year package.

No surprises there. The Bush administration has been
negotiating the package with President Felipe Calderon’s
administration for months. In the lead-up to the announcement,
both governments marshaled studies and statistics to support
the dual –and contradictory– thesis that the drug war in the
United States and Mexico has reached a crisis point and that
current efforts on both sides of the border have been very

From what’s known of it, the package — officially dubbed
the “Mérida Initiative” but more commonly referred to as “Plan
Mexico” — contains direct donations of military and
intelligence equipment, and training programs for Mexican law
enforcement officials. A White House fact sheet lists
surveillance equipment, helicopters and aircraft, scanners for
border revisions, communications systems, and training
programs for “strengthening the institutions of justice.” An
additional $50 million dollars is earmarked for Central
American countries to support their fight against “gangs,
drugs, and arms.”

The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the “Overall
Justification Document,” reported that more than a third of
the package will be spent on aerial surveillance and
facilitating the rapid deployment of troops.

But what has legislators and civil society worried on both
sides of the border is not the money involved or the equipment
to be sent. It’s the reach of Plan Mexico in recasting the
binational relationship, to create what the Bush
administration calls “a new paradigm for security

The Politics of Counternarcotics

Characteristic of the “war on
model, Plan Mexico takes a serious transnational
problem and casts it in such a way as to promote the specific
interests of the U.S. and Mexican rightwing governments.

Following his narrow and questionable electoral triumph,
President Calderon has made the war on drugs a cornerstone of
his government. After taking office Calderon rapidly built an
image of strength in arms. He dispatched over 24,000 army
troops to Mexican cities and villages, dressed himself and his
children in army uniforms for public appearances, and created
an elite corps of special forces under his direct supervision.

The message of a weak presidency bolstered by a strong
alliance with the military has not been lost on Mexican
citizens. Many have criticized the repressive
undertones, increasing human rights violations, constitutional
questions, and threats to civil democratic institutions.

For the Bush administration, Plan Mexico has a dangerously
misguided political thrust as well. Mexico is one of only two
far-right governments among the major countries in the
hemisphere. The other, Colombia, has received billions of
dollars of U.S. military aid, also originally as part of a war
on drugs that soon broadened into an overall military

Washington officials have been lavish in their praise of
the Calderón government and stated explicitly that the
National Action Party’s government permits an “historic” level
of cooperation in security matters. Assistant Secretary of
State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon spoke openly about the newfound commonality
of interests between two nations with a history of conflict:
“The Calderon government has acted with alacrity, with
intelligence and with boldness in its fight against organized
crime and drug trafficking, and we want to be part of that.”

But Bush administration interests go well beyond aiding the
Calderón government in its domestic drug battles. Stephen
Johnson, deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere
affairs in the Defense Department, recently made the connection between Plan Mexico and
Washington’s bid to recover its influence in a slipping
geopolitical context.

“While a groundswell seems to exist for greater engagement
with the United States, there are challenge states such as
Venezuela, Cuba, and to some extent Bolivia and Ecuador. For
now, Venezuela and Cuba are clearly hostile to the United
States, western-style democracy, markets, and are actively
trying to counter our influence. Our challenge is not to
confront them directly, but instead do a better job working
with our democratic allies and friendly neighbors.”

In this context, Johnson — a former Heritage Foundation
analyst — cites Plan Mexico as an excellent example of the
direction to move in, stating, “With some 2,000
execution-style murders this year on the part of drug mafias,
Mexico is under siege. Yet, this is an historic opportunity
for the United States to cement closer ties with its closest
Latin American neighbor and encourage a sea-change in law

The concept of a joint security strategy for North America
goes back at least as far as the creation of the Security and
Prosperity Partnership (SPP) in March of 2005. Since that
time, the Bush administration has attempted to push its
Northern American trade partners into a common front that
would assume shared responsibility for protecting the United
States from terrorist threats and bolstering U.S. global
hegemony in the region.

The Bush administration and the right-wing think tanks that
have developed the strategy explicitly formulate hemispheric
security policy in these terms. The American Enterprise
Institute’s Thomas Donnelly calls the Western Hemisphere “America’s third border” and argues that
“American hegemony in the hemisphere is crucial to U.S.
national security.”

Plan Mexico twists the plot by presenting Bush
administration efforts to create a North American security
strategy in the guise of a war on drugs. It builds on SPP security negotiations that included
expanding the presence of U.S. drug enforcement and customs
agents within Mexico, requiring legislation to commit Mexico
to fight “international terrorism,” and curtailment of civil
liberties similar to those found in the U.S. PATRIOT Act that
would legalize increased spying. Although not formally
announced as elements of SPP agreements, the Mexican
government has complied with all these requests.

Blanket Security

The Mérida Initiative Joint Statement reads, “Our shared goal is
to maximize the effectiveness of our efforts to fight criminal
organizations — so as to disrupt drug-trafficking (including
precursor chemicals); weapons trafficking, illicit financial
activities and currency smuggling, and human trafficking.”

According to the terms of the security aid package, there
is virtually no difference between an international terrorist,
a migrant farmworker, a political protestor, and a drug
trafficker. The most unexpected and pernicious feature of Plan
Mexico is that it targets all these groups indiscriminately.
Lumping together all “transnational threats” and stripping
them of any social or historical context creates a broad
definition of security in the region and justifies a blanket
regional security strategy.

In this way, Plan Mexico goes beyond Plan Colombia, which
at least began with close congressional oversight to assure
that military aid focused on drug trafficking. Plan Mexico
skips the focused stage and leaps right into a wastebasket
definition of security so broad that it could encompass an
unlimited range of problems and actors.

In her testimony before Mexican Senate committees, Foreign
Minister Patricia Espinosa cited four target areas of Plan
Mexico: counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism and border
security, public security and administration of justice, and
institutional strengthening and law enforcement. The inclusion of anti-terrorist activities “to
detect terrorists who might try to attack our neighbor” drew
fire from legislators as proof that the U.S. seeks to impose
its own security agenda.

Espinosa’s admission that the plan contained a program to
digitalize information on migration and apply detection and
control measures on the southern border also caused
controversy. Mexico has a history of offering refuge to
Central Americans and accepting them into its society. That
has been changing as the U.S. government has pressured Mexico
to intercept Central American migrants before they make it to
the northern border.

Plan Mexico advances that process and increases Mexican
participation in stopping its own migrants at the northern
border too. For Mexican workers thrown out of a job by the
U.S.-Mexico trade agreement, being snagged as criminals by
their own government at the border is a cruel irony.

Reactions North and South

Both governments have sought to avoid the moniker “Plan
Mexico,” which despite their efforts tends to be the media’s
favorite in the messaging battle. The name “Plan Mexico”
invites comparison to the failed Plan Colombia, which has
entrenched violence and corruption in that South American
country while failing to reduce drug flows. The “Mérida
Initiative” implies that it is an agreement put together by
the two nations exclusively to address the drug offensive —
Mérida is the name of the Caribbean state capital where Bush
and Calderon met last spring.

Despite their efforts, the announcement has been a PR flop.
President Bush’s unilateral announcement of the package
annoyed Mexican legislators, and the plan lost credibility on
its claim to be a binational program.

It also didn’t help that it was tacked onto the Iraq
supplementary funding request. Any linkage between Plan Mexico
and the reviled U.S. security doctrine as applied in Iraq
increases suspicions among Mexican politicians and public. In
any case, it appears the Mexican legislature has little say in
the matter. Although there was some confusion as to whether
the Mexican government would put up funds for the plan, the
Calderón administration denied any specific funding
commitment. Therefore the aid plan is not subject to
congressional review in Mexico.

In the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, it seems lately you can
sell anything to the democratic leadership if it has a
“security” label on it. House leader Nancy Pelosi was quoted as admitting to not knowing the
content of the new plan and in the same breath implying she
would support it since national security “is our highest

Although U.S. troop presence in Mexico has been ruled out,
Mexican civil society has begun to react to what they see as
forms of interference included in the plan. Members of the
judicial system, including judges from the Supreme Court and
lower courts, have publicly stated objections to U.S. funds
for the court system. Foreign participation in military
training is even more questionable and its expansion under
Plan Mexico has raised concerns on both sides of the border.
The School of the Americas military training program in Fort
Benning barely survived a recent vote in the U.S. Congress and
Mexican and U.S. citizens have expressed human rights concerns
surrounding U.S. training methods.

The role of private contractors in implementing the package
remains unclear and a source of dismay. Security analyst Sam
Logan says Blackwater will be likely be the major beneficiary,
despite its tarnished reputation following its shooting of
Iraqi civilians. Corruption in contracts related to both
training and equipment purchase seems a certainty given recent experience in Iraq.

But by far the biggest complaint in both congresses is the
lack of information. The Mexican Senate immediately demanded
that Foreign Minister Espinosa appear to explain the security
package negotiated with the United States. In the United
States, Senator Robert Menendez protested the secrecy and
stated that without details, it was impossible to evaluate the

The Need for a Different Plan

Faced with a real problem—the strength of drug cartels in
Mexico and the United States—Plan Mexico proposes solutions
that replicate the logic of force and patriarchal control that
the drug cartels rely on. Then it applies these solutions not
only to a bloody frontal battle with drug traffickers, but to
a multitude of complex security threats with roots deep in
Mexican society.

The “commitment to a regional security strategy,” which
uses counternarcotics as a starting point and moves on from
there, also entails a radical break with Mexico’s traditional
neutrality in foreign policy. The sheer scope of the package
reflects the Bush administration’s military/police focus in
international security issues, just when those strategies have
hit a low point in popularity within the United States.

While heralded as binational cooperation, Plan Mexico seeds
grave divisions within Mexico and in the long-term between the
two nations.

It also drives an ideological stake into the heart of Latin
America. By scooping Mexico up into a “common regional
security strategy” the Bush administration creates
technological, military, financial and political dependencies
that seal the already overwhelming economic dependency Mexico
has on the United States and isolates it from the rest of the

Unless checks and balances appear that have so far not been
revealed, Plan Mexico could contribute to the creation of a
police state in Mexico.

Laura Carlsen is a program director of the Americas Program
at the Center for International Policy and an FPIF columnist.

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by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a project of the Institute
for Policy Studies (IPS, online at Copyright ©
2008, Institute for Policy Studies.

Recommended citation:
Laura Carlsen, "Plan
Mexico," (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, October 30,


Production Information:
Laura Carlsen
Editor(s): John
Production: John

Latest Comments & Conversation
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each comment. Comments are checked for content only; spelling and
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Date: Oct 30, 2007

I appreciate the breadth of repercussions that
you include in this piece. Has the Bush administration
reviewed potential impacts upon Belizean citizens who depend
on daily cross-border movement for their very survival? Yes,
Plan Mexico really does have the potential to further the
evolution of a police state in Mexico. Will this provoke a
response similar to what transpired in Oaxaca last Fall?
Taking this path only leads to one certainty: increased
confrontation between civil society and a heavily armed PFP,
military and government-backed paramilitary groups. Let this
article not fall on deaf ears.

Discussion for this article has been


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