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U.S. lags on aid in Mexico’s drug battle

MEXICO CITY – The United States has spent a fraction of the money pledged – just $24 million of $1.3 billion appropriated – to help Mexico in its bloody three-year-old battle against the drug cartels that have turned parts of country into a war zone and left 15,000 dead, according to a U.S. government report issued Thursday.

The Merida Initiative, signed by President George W. Bush and Mexican leader Felipe Calderon in 2007, promises helicopters, night-vision goggles and drug-sniffing dogs, as well as a more robust crime-fighting partnership between the U.S. and Mexico. So far the U.S. has delivered 2 percent of the equipment and support promised, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office.

The perception of a slow flow of aid has rankled some in the Calderon government and fueled criticism here that the U.S., which spends billions consuming illegal drugs, is fiddling while 50,000 Mexican soldiers and police are fighting in the streets to confront powerful criminal organizations.

The Merida Initiative did not lay out a specific timeline for delivering the U.S. assistance, but the report made clear that the pace of spending was lagging.

But the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, countered that the GAO report creates a “misimpression.” He said that the U.S. has actually spent $222 million but that “due to the idiosyncrasies of federal reporting and contracting,” many up-and-running programs have not yet shown up on the books as money “spent.”

Tags: drugs, Mexico

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