Sunday, November 6, 2011

New U.S. Ambassador To Mexico Stands Behind Mérida Initiative

Earl Wayne Also Promises to Track Down Killers of American Officials

By Edward V. Byrne for The Yucatan Times
August 2, 2011

Earl Anthony Wayne, new US Ambassador to Mexico
Mexico has a new United States Ambassador, and he promises to stand firmly behind the sometimes controversial Mérida Initiative of 2008.  On Tuesday (August 2) the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Earl Anthony Wayne, a 60 year old career State Department diplomat, to the Mexico City post following his nomination earlier this year by President Obama. Wayne has been a foreign service officer since 1975. He was previously assigned to Afghanistan.

Carlos Pascual with president Felipe Calderon
Wayne replaces former U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual, a close friend of Obama, who resigned in March after Wikileaks disclosures fatally wounded his relationship with Mexican officials, and especially with President Felipe Calderon. Wikileaks, an international whistleblower, has published the contents of numerous stolen U.S. diplomatic cables in recent months, and some of them contain critical comments allegedly made by Pascual while serving as ambassador to Mexico. The comments suggest Pascual’s apparent belief that Mexico officials have not done enough in the country’s ongoing war against drug cartels. The disclosures embarrassed Washington and infuriated some in the Mexican government, leading to Pascual’s resignation last spring. Wayne was nominated a few weeks later.

Earl Wayne told Senators during his confirmation hearing two weeks ago that he stands behind the Mérida Initiative and will try to accelerate its implementation. Sometimes called “Plan Mexico” by its critics, the initiative is a security cooperation agreement between Mexico and the United States designed to fight drug trafficking, transnational organized crime groups and money laundering. The agreement, which became law in the U.S. in June 2008, contains provisions for training and equipping Mexican forces and for intelligence gathering and sharing. The name derives from meetings held by former President George Bush and President Calderon in Mérida.

President Bush and President Calderon, "The Mérida Initiative"
The U.S. pledged Mexico about $1.6 billion in direct aid under the plan, but the money has been very slow in arriving despite unprecedented levels of violence in many regions of the country. Mexican officials have increasingly complained about delays in promised funds and assistance. Wayne told Senators at his July 20 hearing that Mexican legislators were of a “strong consensus” that the Mérida Initiative must continue. While admitting the plan has its critics, Wayne said “I’ve not heard other alternatives that we could put into effect.” He told Senators that after Mexico’s 2012 elections he plans to meet with new government officials in an effort to accelerate the initiative, which presumably would include pressing for a release of more funds.

Some critics of the Mérida Initiative have complained of its extraordinary cost, especially given the severe contraction of the U.S. economy which began in 2008 when the plan was approved. Others have pointed to an apparent lack of success in Mexico’s drug war and have compared the initiative to Plan Colombia which was implemented 15 years ago, with mixed results. With Congress and the President severely split over budget issues, spending and the just raised national debt ceiling, it is far from certain how much Mérida Initiative money Mexico may receive during the remaining months of Calderon’s presidency, which ends in 2012.

The new ambassador also assured Senators that U.S. government officials who have been victims of Mexico’s drug violence would be his “top priority.” Among others, Wayne was referring to Lesley Enriquez and her husband Arthur Redelfs, both of whom were murdered in broad daylight on a busy street in Ciudad Juárez in March 2010. Enriquez was an employee of the U.S. Consulate in the city, the most dangerous in Mexico and often described as the most dangerous city in the world. Enriquez and Redelfs were U.S. citizens who for security reasons lived just across the border in El Paso. On the day of their murders they had attended a birthday party for the child of a fellow consulate employee at the latter’s home. They were on their way back to the international bridge crossing when drug gunmen following their vehicle opened fire. Both were killed, as was Enriquez’ unborn child. Their seven month old daughter survived unhurt in the back seat. Another consulate employee who had attended the same birthday party was also gunned down a short time later. No clear motive for the crimes has been offered by investigators, and it is unknown if the killers attacked the consulate employees with knowledge that they were U.S. citizens.

José Antonio Acosta Hernández, known as El Diego
On July 31 Mexico police arrested the chief enforcer of the Juárez Cartel, José Antonio Acosta Hernández, known as El Diego, who has allegedly admitted that he was the master mind of the March 2010 executions. Mexico had offered a reward of $15 million pesos ($1.25 million USD) for Acosta Hernández’ arrest, and the United States $5 million. U.S. officials praised Mexico for solving the case. Acosta Hernández has purportedly confessed to ordering the murder of another 1,500 people in areas controlled by the Juárez Cartel since becoming its enforcer. He is a former high ranking police officer in the Mexican state of Chihuahua who quit his law enforcement post and began working with organized crime several years ago.

Suspect extradited in brutal Juárez slayings:

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