Increasing Aid to Mexico?

Latin America and the Caribbean

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press. In addition to talking about Iraq and the difference between President Obama and President Bush, Gates spoke about the current security concerns in Mexico and the potential for more U.S. – Mexico cooperation in the fight against the drug cartels (watch the video here). Gates mentioned that the current climate of U.S. – Mexico relations is one such that more cooperation will be possible, including a possible increase in U.S. aid in the form of military hardware, training and intelligence support. Gates also praised Mexican President Felipe Calderon for his courage to stand up to the well-armed and organized drug traffickers – stating that one of the reasons the situation is so bad today is that Calderon’s predecessors did not fight back. Gates’ comments come at a time when all eyes seem to be on Mexico: drug-related deaths topped 6,000 in 2008 and have already surpassed 1,000 in the first two months of 2009; everyday, reports of murders or threats against the lives of police officers and civilians are in the news; and last week, 5,000 extra soldiers and 1,000 additional federal police officers were deployed to Ciudad Juarez and Texas Governor Rick Perry announced his request for 1,000 more ‘boots on the ground’ on the U.S. side of the border in response to the increased levels of violence. The surge in violence south of the border has placed Mexico high on the United States’ security agenda, with Defense Secretary Gates, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano all mentioning in the past week the importance to the Obama administration of working with Mexico to stem the flow of drugs to the north and the flow of arms to the south. Below is the transcript of Gates’ comments on Mexico during his interview on Meet the Press.

MR. GREGORY: We've got a few more minutes, and I want to go through as quickly as we can some other really important topics. The first is Mexico, a major threat on the border with Mexico because of a widening drug war there. The Economist magazine wrote this startling synopsis, and they call it "Who's in charge? The police chief in Ciudad Juarez, on Mexico's border with America, resigned after drug gangs, who had murdered his deputy, threatened to kill one of his officers every 48 hours until he quit." What's going on there, and how big of a national security threat is this for the U.S.? SEC'Y GATES: Well, I think that what is important is that President Calderon of Mexico, perhaps for the first time, has, has taken on the battle against these cartels. And because of corruption in the police and so on, he sent the federal army of Mexico into the fight. The cartels are retaliating. I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation with our--between our militaries and so on I think are being set aside. MR. GREGORY: You mean providing military supporting? SEC'Y GATES: Providing them with, with training, with, with resources, with reconnaissance and surveillance kinds of capabilities; but just cooperation, including in intelligence. But it clearly is a serious problem, and, and--but what I think people need to point out is the courage that Calderon has shown in taking this on, because one of the reasons it's gotten as bad as it has is because his predecessors basically refused to do that.