At a time when more than 90 per cent of the cocaine arriving in the United States is coming through the Mexico-Central American corridor, it is essential that we ratchet-up our cooperation with our friends to the south to put an end to this deadly flow. The appalling violence associated with the drug trade—and with the vicious criminal gangs that run it—cries out for vigorous joint action by the governments of the region.

The Administration’s announcement of a new, $1.5 billion initiative to enhance our security cooperation with Mexico and Central America is long overdue. The question we will have to answer is whether this is the right initiative.

Let me first note the obvious concern we have on the committee that the Administration’s policy focus is on the symptom—the massive flow of drugs from Latin America to the United States—rather than the cure, which would clearly be long-range, balanced economic development in the region.

Without any question, if we beef up law enforcement and border security, there will be positive consequences. The question is will the trade merely move in another direction?

I also find it disturbing that the Administration did not involve its coequal branch of government, the United States Congress, in developing this initiative. As a matter of fact, we first learned of the initiative from the media. For an Administration which is not particularly noted for its bipartisanship, this cavalier disregard of congressional concern is deeply disturbing.

There is also an issue of the division of the proposed aid program between Mexico and Central America. Central America in this proposal receives $50 million, Mexico ten times that amount, and whether this is the right ratio or not is certainly open to question.

The hope that the legendary corruption in the Mexican police apparatus will somehow diminish or disappear as a result of this proposal strikes me as also naïve. As one Mexican analyst put it recently, we may be exchanging a corrupt and badly-equipped police force with a corrupt and well-equipped police force. And whether that represents a step forward is very much of an open question.

$208 million of the proposed $500 million package for Mexico is for helicopters. The question remains, what are the mission requirements of these helicopters? How will Mexico use the aircraft? What restrictions do we contemplate putting on the use of the aircraft? How will we monitor the use of the aircraft?

The reports in the media are that this is a three-year plan. We are currently in the seventh year of Plan Colombia with no end in sight. Is the Mexico plan equally open-ended? How will we define and how will we measure success? From where will subsequent money come for this plan? Latin American assistance budgets have been steadily declining and a very large portion of the amounts Latin America does get are taken up by Plan Colombia. Will ’09 money for this plan also be taken from existing Latin American funds?

This is not the first attempt to provide helicopters for counter-drug use. Twelve years ago, 73 helicopters were given to Mexico. They were used, and did not work well, and we ended up with the Mexicans giving them back to us. The Mexican military also singularly dislikes end-use monitoring requirements, without which Congress will not approve the measure.

Training is an important part of this program, and training is a very important element in stemming the flow of drugs. But it is reported that prior counter-drug training resulted in a significant number of individuals, well-trained, becoming members of drug traffickers’ military units—and as a result of our training, using sophisticated military tactics, intelligence-gathering and operational training. Training can be dangerous because it can make corrupt forces more effective.

I look forward to our distinguished witnesses’ presentations, and I now turn to my friend and colleague from Florida.