U.S. Pays Mexico to Secure Border

U.S. spent $57.8 million in 2005 to have Mexico help control borders

Mexican soldiers took courses like "Intelligence for Combating Terrorism," "Basic Intelligence Officer," "Waterside Port Security" and "Response to Terrorism." Four of the students were trained at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

In another change, 56 of the counterterrorism students were trained in Mexico City. Until recently, Mexico would not permit U.S. military trainers on its soil, meaning the soldiers had to fly to the United States to take classes.

Mexican military cooperation is "critical to U.S. homeland defense," the State Department said in a report to Congress justifying its aid plans for 2006. But the Mexican military is keeping the increased aid a secret.

When The Republic requested a list of items supplied by the U.S. government, the National Defense Secretariat responded with a letter saying those records would remain sealed to the public for 12 years.

"The (Mexican) government has been very quiet with its information about U.S. aid," said Celina Fernandez Vizcaino, director of the International Studies Program at the University of Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. "If that information were more widely known, like that Mexican soldiers are training with Americans, it would be a scandal."

A court order

The increased aid comes with one catch, however, and it could derail at least part of what is headed to Mexico next year.

In 2000, Mexico signed a treaty setting up the International Criminal Court, a permanent tribunal that can try people for war crimes and genocide. The court opened in The Hague, Netherlands, in March 2003.

The United States does not support the court because it fears Americans, as citizens of a superpower, could be unfairly singled out for prosecution. It has decided to punish any country that supports the court by withholding non-drug-related military aid.

Mexico finally ratified the treaty creating the court and sent it to the United Nations on Oct. 28 of this year.

By doing so, it could lose the $2.5 million in foreign military financing, as well as the free military training. The United States has already cut off similar aid to 12 other Latin American countries. President Fox has refused to withdraw from the court.

"We will not accept any kind of pressure over our participation in that court," he told The Republic. "We will not tolerate blackmail from anybody. If they try to do it, they will not succeed."

Fernandez said the U.S. influence could be a political bomb. "Even if the United States is not directly pressuring Mexico with aid, this could give the appearance that our foreign policy is being influenced, and that is a very serious problem," she said.

The affected programs are only a small part of the $50.6 million in military and police aid that the United States has budgeted for Mexico next year, and some of that aid could be saved by reclassifying it as drug-related.

The State Department has not said how much Mexico stands to lose.

Some U.S. critics say the police and military aid is a waste because Mexico has done little to stop the hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the border illegally each year.

"The government of Mexico is a co-conspirator in the smuggling of immigrants," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus. "This is how we reward them, with helicopters and ways to tap phones? ... Somebody just has a lot more trust than they should have in Mexico's ability to be a good neighbor."

Fox disagrees

But Fox says the equipment and training are being put to good use in the fight against drug smugglers and potential terrorists, making the United States a safer place.

In March, Mexico, Canada and the United States signed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, which calls for a continentwide security strategy.

Fox bristles at any suggestion that the United States pays for Mexico's cooperation.

"They don't subsidize us or pay us anything," he said. "It's a cooperative effort because we're partners. NAFTA has taken the United States, Mexico and Canada to a higher level of cooperation. Because of that, we need to work together on security aspects as well."

(The Arizona Republic -- 01/02/06)