President Bush has asked Congress for $550 million to help Mexico and Central America fight drug trafficking amid escalating violence, particularly on the Texas-Mexico border, the Houston Chronicle reports. The funding request is part of a two- to three-year package that would total about $1.4 billion. The aid package for Mexico would include funds for additional military helicopters and other surveillance aircraft, drug-sniffing dogs, and telecommunications equipment. It would also pay for training Mexican police and troops involved in intercepting drug shipments en route to the U.S.
The package does not call for additional American personnel working on the ground in Mexico. Thomas Shannon, the State Department’s top diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, noted that Mexico already has invested $3 billion of its own to fight organized crime and drug trafficking and is making progress. Shannon said the aid package, dubbed the “Merida Initiative,” comes “at a particular moment in which organized crime presents a real threat in Mexico and Central America and we have leadership in Mexico and Central America to fight that threat.” Shannon conceded that $550 million “is a relatively small amount of money.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others indicated it could be tough for Bush to get the funding package through Congress because support for the war in Iraq is at an all-time low and because Bush recently angered many Democrats when he vetoed funds for children’s health insurance.