Plan Merida – can it make a difference to violence and drug trafficking?

John Negroponte, who was notoriously the US ambassador to Honduras during the contra war, but now is Subsecretary of the United States, has been visiting Central America recently. On 3 to 6 June he visited Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to discuss several issues such as trade, drug trafficking and security. The Merida Initiative is a project by which the United States will provide funds to Mexico and the governments of Central America “to combat the threats of drug trafficking, transnational crime, and terrorism in the Western Hemisphere”.

While worthy in principle the initiative has been criticised as paying too much attention to funding and equipping police and military forces that have frequently been shown to be corrupt and abuse human rights and too little to dealing with preventing crime, drug trafficking and rehabilitation of those involved in them. The Washington Office on Latin America has produced an interesting commentary on the initiative and its shortcomings. The executive summary of their concerns about the Merida Initiative in respect of Central America is:

  • Violence in Central America takes a vast array of
    forms, not just gangs, and the Merida Initiative does not adequately
    reflect this.
  • The Central
    American component of the Merida Initiative places insufficient
    attention on and provides inadequate funding for the prevention of
    youth violence
  • The plan offers
    scant support for comprehensive, structural reforms of Central American
    police forces, overemphasizing specialized units without a
    comprehensive analysis of the needs of the police.
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