GAO: Where’s the money going?

Thanks to Governor Jan Brewer’s media-seeking bonanza, and the escalation of violence in the northern states of Mexico, the US is starting to take notice of the significant drug trafficking problem just south of our border. Millions of dollars have been spent in the fight against drug traffickers and the violence they bring, but how has that money been spent?

Well, to put it simply, we don’t know. At least that’s what the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is saying in a report released today to the Obama administration. The GAO reviewed the roughly $1.6 billion allocated towards fighting drug trafficking (to put that sum in perspective, Obama proposed $159.3 billion towards the Iraq War for FY 2011 alone…we’re clearly taking the escalating violence perpetrated by drug cartels and traffickers seriously), and found that there was simply no way to tell how the money had been spent. Why? Because there has been no specificity in how the money should be allocated. Simply put, there are no specifically defined goals for the State Department’s so-called “Merida Initiative,” which according to the State Department’s website, “will provide equipment and training to law enforcement operations and technical assistance to promote the long-term reform, oversight, and professionalism of our partner’s security agencies.” Those partners, by the way, are the governments in Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and other countries in Central America.

Not only is this a problem in measuring whether or not the initiative has failed, it also creates a problem in measuring whether or not the initiative has succeeded. Or partially succeeded and partially failed. Without this knowledge, we cannot move forward in assessing what tactics should be continued and what tactics should not. And if it couldn’t get any worse, the Initiative was originally designed as a three year program that began in FY 2009. We are very close to FY 2011, and we still do not know these specifics. This does not bode well for either the future of the Merida Initiative, nor the future of our government’s efforts in combating drug trafficking. Given the fact that violence seems all to common in stories like this or this, this or this one, or even this, the problems plaguing the Merida Initiative do not present a comforting reality to sit with.

The US has been ignoring a growing problem south of the border, and the longer we ignore it, the worse it will be when we are finally forced to confront it. The reason for this ignorance may be unknown, but the realist in me believes it is because the problem has been precisely that, south of the border so it must not be our problem. Well, it will be. When and how we choose to address it remains to be seen.

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