MEXICO CITY – The Bush administration is close to sealing a major, multiyear aid deal to combat drug cartels in Mexico that would be the biggest U.S. anti-narcotics effort abroad since a seven-year, $5 billion program in Colombia, according to U.S. lawmakers, congressional aides and Mexican authorities.
Negotiators for Mexico and the United States have made significant progress toward agreement on an aid plan that would include telephone tapping equipment, radar to track traffickers’ shipments by air, aircraft to transport Mexican anti-drug teams and assorted training, sources said. Delicate questions remain – primarily regarding Mexican sensitivities about the level of U.S. activity on Mexican soil – but confidence is running high that a deal will be struck soon.
“I’m sure that it’s going to be hundreds of millions of dollars,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said in an interview. “If we’re going to be successful in cutting out this cancer over there, we’re going to have to invest a large amount.”
Cuellar, who has already proposed legislation to increase aid to Mexico, predicted that an announcement could be made as soon as Aug. 20 when President Bush meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Quebec. A Mexican government source cautioned against projecting an exact timetable despite “advances” in the talks.
The plans are being discussed at a time when Mexico is struggling to contain a war among major drug cartels that has cost more than 3,000 lives in the past year and has horrified Mexicans with images of beheadings and videotaped assassinations. Calderon has impressed U.S. officials by extraditing a record number of drug suspects to the United States and by dispatching more than 20,000 federal police officers and soldiers to fight the trafficking organizations, but that has failed to stop the violence.
The drug aid package would represent a major shift in relations after years of tension and mutual suspicion among law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. “It’s astonishing and a sea change,” said a senior Republican aide who works on drug policy issues. “It’s a real recognition that Calderon has a problem. And his success or failure will impact us. The days of the finger-pointing are over.”
The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believes the program will be well-received in Washington once it is unveiled.
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