Cablegate: Jessica Lewis at Los Pinos


DE RUEHME #0609/01 0602048
R 292048Z FEB 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Senate Foreign Affairs staff member
Jessica Lewis visited Mexico for two days February 20-22 to
discuss elements of the Merida Initiative with GOM contacts,
independent security analysts and representatives from rights
organizations. With her official interlocutors, Lewis
discussed the GOM,s overall security strategy and efforts
already underway here to curb crime and violence. With her
non-governmental contacts, she reviewed the political
landscape, discussed human rights concerns and assessed the
strengths and weaknesses of Mexican law enforcement and
security elements. Below are highlights of key meetings.

2. (SBU) Meeting at the Los Pinos office of Sigrid Arzt,
Technical Coordinator of President Calderon,s National
Security Cabinet, Lewis sounded out the GOM,s core Merida
Initiative team on their strategic objectives in the counter
narcotics battle, what Mexico was already doing without USG
assistance and Mexico,s efforts to integrate its strategy
with other countries in the region. Lewis also offered a
preview of how the Merida Initiative will be discussed in
Congress later this spring. Arzt was accompanied by Carlos
Rico, Undersecretary for North American Affairs at SRE, David
Najera, Rico,s Special Affairs Coordinator, and Juan Carlos
Foncerrado, Head of International Affairs at Mexico,s
National Security Intelligence Center (CISEN).

3. (SBU) Carlos Rico, Undersecretary for North American
Affairs at SRE outlined the initiative,s evolution over the
last year, and said Mexico,s goal was to regain the ground
lost to the cartels in recent years. Mexico has begun by
deploying the military -- its most effective asset -- but
intends to &civilianize8 the effort and give the lead to
improved law enforcement elements at the earliest possible

4. (SBU) The Merida Initiative will help the GOM promote
coordination among Mexican federal law enforcement elements,
&re-engineer8 key law enforcement and judicial
institutions, train and equip forces and encourage better
intelligence collection and information sharing. Mexico's
federal government will also play a larger role in building
the capabilities of state and local law enforcement, provide
resources conditioned on local reforms. He said Merida,s
importance lies in providing Mexico with some of the best
counter-crime technology available, such as sophisticated
avionics, advanced surveillance aircraft and non-intrusive
inspection equipment that is simply not available through
commercial channels. It also offers Mexico budgetary &elbow
room8 to expend its own resources to modernize policing.

5. (SBU) Lewis asked her Los Pinos contacts what Mexico
would be doing if the Merida Initiative did not move forward.
Both Rico and Arzt stressed that Mexico had significantly
expanded its counter-narcotics budget and activities. Merida
Initiative funding would be modest in comparison to what the
Mexican government is throwing against the cartels, said
Rico. The GOM had already scored significant successes in
the past year, and it would be important to carefully
evaluate the value-added of U.S. counter-narcotics
assistance, he said. He added that the initiative, if
carried out fully, should involve more than just resource
transfers from the U.S. to Mexico: it will also involve
actions undertaken in the U.S., such as efforts to stem the
flow of illegal weapons into Mexico.

6. (SBU) Lewis noted that many in the U.S. congress may
have concernce that not enough emphasis is being given to
soft-side initiatives in Mexico. The cartels can,t be
beaten with helicopters alone, she said. In response, Arzt
and Rico outlined the steps Mexico was taking to encourage
community policing strategies at the municipal levels in
order to strengthen the interface between local police and
communities. Rico noted Mexico,s increased demand reduction
efforts and other intitiatives being carried out with the
support of other international partners. He also pointed to
the extensive legal reform before Mexico,s congress, which
will have a positive impact on the government,s ability to
dismantle the cartels.

7. (SBU) Discussion turned to Mexico,s relations with its
neighbors in fighting organized crime. Rico said a regional
approach was essential to a successful strategy, and that
Mexico was as engaged with its Central American neighbors.
He noted that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were most
seized with the challenges presented by illicit narcotics
trade, and that Nicaragua, for a variety of reason, has not
been as energetic a partner. Lewis and her interlocutors
agreed on the need to keep Colombia closely involved in a
regional counter-narcotics strategy.

8. (SBU) Lewis concluded the meeting by offering a preview
of how the Merida Initiative will be taken on in congress,
noting that its inclusion as part of the administration,s
next Iraq war supplemental funding request made it difficult
to assess its prospects at this juncture. While most
congressional attention would be focused on hotly contentious
questions related to operations in Iraq, a number of
congressmen will likely raise concerns related to Mexico.
She offered no assessment of the Merida Initiative,s
prospects in Congress.

--------------------------------------------- -
Meeting with Human Rights/Democracy Advocates
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (SBU) During her visit, Lewis met with Julian Bell,
Director for National Democratic Institute Mexico (NDI) and
Edgar Cortez, Executive Secretary for the Human Rights
Network. Both outlined their views on organized crime with
regard to human rights and democracy in Mexico.

10. SBU) Cortez expressed concern about the militarization
of Mexico,s efforts to fight drug traffickers, specifically,
the federal strategy against organized crime and military
intervention on the local level, which he said too often
leads to human rights violations.8 Cortez argued that
there is not enough transparency on human rights issues
within the military and said human rights organizations need
to know more about how the military investigates human rights
abuse allegations against its soldiers.

11. (SBU) Cortez also outlined the pros and cons of the
justice reform legislation before Congress. While the move
toward oral trials is positive, he said, human rights
organizations in Mexico believe some aspects of the bill will
lead to more rights abuses here and that it omits some
much-needed police and judicial reforms.

12. (SBU) Neither Cortez nor Bell said they were opposed
outright to the Merida Initiative, but both urged the U.S.
to monitor its results as well as its impact on the behavior
of security forces. The USG should encourage independent
experts to evaluate results on the Initiative as well, they

A Meeting with a Security Analyst

13. (SBU) Lewis also met with Ernesto Lopez Portillo
Vargas, President of the Mexican Institute for Security and
Democracy (INSYDE), who also discussed the pending legal
reform bill in congress. Portillo said his main concern is
with the issue of accountability. With the new reform,
police forces ) not free of corruption ) will work
independently and be able to escape accountability. He also
criticized the GOM,s strategy for reforming federal
policing, saying it concentrated too heavily on vetting
individual officers and not enough on changing flawed

14. (SBU) Portillo said that Calderon and Garcia Luna
wanted results quickly, but that taking on to many projects
in such a short time period poses risks. For example, the
GOM could develop a powerful justice system in very short
order with more technology/equipment, but it would remain
unaccountable. Police powers could be broadened without
providing for adequate civilian oversight of policing. The
longer the military was on the front line of the counter
narcotics battle, the more likely it would be to suffer
desertions and infiltrations of the ranks at all levels by

15. (SBU) The Merida Initiative, he opined, invests money
in weakly controlled (both externally and internally)
institutions. Although Portillo does not think the MI will
have much of an effect on the war against organized crime, he
said that it may help promote greater transparency through
oversight and monitoring of how the USG-granted equipment is
being used ) but only if the USG puts a mechanism in place
and the GOM develops metrics to determine progress against
the cartels.

16. (SBU) Comment: Lewis heard from the GOM,s key
Merida Initiative players who offered a reasoned and detailed
justification of the proposal. She also heard from some of
the toughest critics of the efforts it has mounted to date
against the cartels. Second-guessing aside, all
interlocutors agreed that circumstances here warrant a
focused and sustained counter narcotics effort. End Comment.

Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at and the North American
Partnership Blog at /

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