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Cablegate: With Merida Help, Mexican Customs Cleans House

VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHME #2461/01 2312105
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY ADA152E0 MSI5505-695)
R 192105Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7966
INFO RUEHXC/ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFIUU/HQ USNORTHCOM
RUEAHLA/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS MEXICO 002461


SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

C O R R E C T E D COPY CAPTION

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KCRM SNAR MX
SUBJECT: WITH MERIDA HELP, MEXICAN CUSTOMS CLEANS HOUSE

1. (SBU) Summary. On August 15 the Government of Mexico
announced that Mexican Customs (Aduanas) would not renew the
expiring contract of its Fiscales (the armed enforcement
element of Aduanas). Backed by a temporary deployment of
Mexican military personnel, 722 members of the Fiscales (the
entire armed work force) were relieved of their
responsibilities and replaced by 1400 newly trained Aduanas
agents. While the transition appears sudden, Aduanas had
worked closely with the U.S. to train, vet, and polygraph a
corps of replacement agents using Merida Initiative funding.
End Summary.


Impetus for Change
2. (SBU) Aduanas began 16 weeks of training for the 1400 new
customs agents on 11 May 2009. The GOM hired these recruits
for the specific purpose of assuming law enforcement duties
at all ports of entry (POEs). Prior to the August 15
announcement, Fiscales working at 49 POEs provided armed
enforcement for inspections at border entry points. As a
semi-autonomous law enforcement entity contracted by Aduanas,
Fiscales had at one time been the highest paid officers in
Aduanas. However, a dated and inflexible legal and
contractual framework led to a sustained erosion of salaries
and benefits. Aduanas was unsuccessful in seeking
legislative authority to upgrade salaries and impose higher
standards on the Fiscales and Aduanas management was
concerned that an increasing number of Fiscales were
succumbing to the temptation of padding their wages through
cooperation with a variety of criminal enterprises. The
expiration of the Fiscales current six month contract on
evening of 15 August offered the opportunity the organization
needed to establish a competent, honest, untainted law
enforcement element responsible solely to the GOM.

3. (SBU) Under the coordination provided by an Aduanas
command center in Mexico City, the transition was swift and
decisive. Mexican Customs Service Port Directors formally
relieved the existing Fiscales work force of its duties and
replaced it with newly trained Aduanas agents. Mexican Port
Directors also called their CBP counterparts to inform them
of the change. The GOM tasked SEDENA to deploy soldiers to
provide security during the transition at each of the 19
border POEs and also positioned forces at the remaining 30
inland POEs. Army troops prevented violence during the
changeover and relieved the dismissed Fiscales of their
weapons for proper storage and accountability. (Note: These
deployments are expected to end the week of August 17-21.
However, soldiers who have been providing perimeter security
at the 19 border POEs for the past year will remain at their
posts after the transition period. End note.)

4. (SBU) The GOM insists that the Fiscales were not fired,
and can apply for work on the new force if they meet the new
higher recruitment standards. However, 71% of the 1400 newly
trained Aduanas agents are university educated; the new
agents passed extensive background and polygraph exams, and
received training in the use of the new non-intrusive in
inspection devices. It will be difficult for the dismissed
Fiscales to meet these new requirements. The GOM expects
many of the Fiscales will legally challenge their removal.
In fact, one has already publicly signaled that he will sue
the government to return to his job.


New Structure

5. (SBU) The new terms of employment are significantly
different. The new armed Aduanas agents have pay and
benefits parity with other customs officials, and their
salaries will adjust according to uniform Aduanas standards.
Each agent added to the force will undergo a full vetting
process before being hired, which includes a financial
investigation and polygraph testing that is now standard for
federal GOM law enforcement hires. There will be periodic
reviews and annual polygraphs for all agents. Aduanas
leadership hopes that, by raising pay commensurate with
responsibility and providing effective oversight of its armed
enforcement force, it can instill institutional loyalty and
limit corruption.

Merida Funding Provides Foundation for Change
E

6. (SBU) Merida Initiative (MI) funds, were instrumental to
this radical institutional overhaul of the Mexican Customs
Service. Our funding underwrote the GOM polygraph program
that vetted the new hires. It will continue to support
periodic polygraph updates, within Aduanas, contributing to a
more trustworthy force. MI funds purchased the non-intrusive
inspection equipment on which the new agents were trained
before they assumed their duties on August 15. With Merida
funding, Aduanas will soon take the next step and vet all
Port Security Directors. In broader terms, the Merida
Initiative has encouraged the development of federal policing
standards and practices to which the new Aduanas agents will
be held.
7. (SBU) Comment: The Merida Initiative framework provided
the GOM the resources it needed to identify the problem,
commence a concerted vetting and training program, and ensure
a smooth transition. While not unique to Aduanas, the
strategic approach adopted by the GOM in curbing corruption
within the organization provides a good model for the success
of other institutional transitions. CBP will work closely
with the new Aduanas officers to ensure continued cooperation
during the transition. End Comment.

Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap /

FEELEY

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