Aug 20, 2011

MexicoBlog Editorial: What's Behind the Merida Initiative's Move to Texas?

We have been wondering all week about the politics behind this week's announcements by the U.S. Department of State that the Obama administration is shifting the focus of the Merida Intiative from funding support of the Mexican federal government to fight the drug war to training Mexican state and municipal police.

We wondered even more what was going on when it was announced that a memorandum of agreement had been signed between the State Department and the sheriff's department of Webb County, Texas, to have the sheriff's department provide training to local Mexican law enforcement. We wondered: Why Texas? Well, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is now running for president. And we knew from an article written last year by our CIP colleague, Tom Barry, for the Boston Review, "At War in Texas," that the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition and Gov. Perry were working hand in hand to develop a "Texas model of border security,” with its own Department of Homeland Security. The projects of this state-county sheriffs' partnership are heavily financed with federal funds.

Then we wondered: why Webb County? We found that, according to its own website,"Webb County is located in Laredo, Texas." (We always thought that cities were located within counties, not the other way around.) Then with an article published yesterday in the (Austin) Texas Tribune, "Texas Peace Officers to Train Mexican Law Enforcement, the answer became clear as to why Laredo and Webb County had been chosen to be the new weapon in the Merida Initiative. The ariticle, written by Julian Aguilar, gives no hint that it is aware of the implications of what is being reported.

It identifies that the sheriff of Webb County is Martin Cuellar, the brother of U.S. Congressional Representative Henry Cuellar, a self-identified "Blue Dog" Democrat.  According to his House of Representatives website, Cuellar - and his sheriff brother - are sons of Mexican migrant workers. The sons were born in Laredo, Henry in 1955. The immigration status of the parents is not stated. The 1950´s was the time of the "bracero" migrant program, which provided agriculture guest worker visas to Mexican laborers. Many migrants also worked without visas.  In 1954, the Immigration Services implemented its mass deportation program "Operation Wetback." Over one million Mexicans, including Mexican-American citizens, were apprehended and deported. (see our History of Mexican Migration).

Rep. Cuellar is "the most highly educated member of the House of Representatives," with five degrees, including a B.S. from Gerogetown Univeristy's School of Foreign Affairs, an M.A. in international trade from Texas A&M and a doctor of laws and Ph.D. from the University of Texas. He was Laredo's representative to the Texas Legislature for fourteen years, from 1987 to 2001, when he became Texas Secretary of State. He was first elected to Congress in 2005.

His government website describes him as, "currently the Ranking Member of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee in the House Homeland Security Committee. He believes in strong national security and homeland security efforts. Since coming to Congress, he's worked hand in hand with Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement to reinforce border security initiatives along the U.S. southern border with Mexico."

Rep. Cuellar's website also highlights his other major focus, international trade. "As Chairman and founder of the bi-partisan House Pro-Trade Caucus, Congressman Cuellar is widely regarded as a national trade expert in Washington D.C. Across Texas, businesses and communities alike applaud his support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement. As the largest exporter of goods in the nation, Texas currently grosses more than $100 billion a year by conducting trade with other nations." Most of that trade is NAFTA-created trade with Mexico, of which Gov. Perry is also very aware and actively promotes.

Regarding creating the relationship between the Merida Initiative and his brother's sheriff's department, Rep. Cuellar is quoted in the Tribune article as saying, "I’ve been talking to the State Department about this for quite a while. For three or four months we’ve been talking about this.”

The article then goes on to quote Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, and self-described head of the Merida Initiative, Ambassador William Brownfield on the supposed logic behind the Obama administration's strategic decision to shift funding from the Mexican federal goverment to state and municipal police departments.

The article ends by quoting Rep. Cuellar on how this pork barrel is likely going to be shared throughout the Texas political world. "Additional agencies in Texas, including the Laredo Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety (read "Gov. Perry") and the Webb County District Attorney’s office, may also enter into an agreement and join in on operations. The U.S. State department will cover any expenses.”

We expect to see Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, who recently spoke of "Arizona's bountiful border," want to jump into this new border state/Merida Initiative pork barrel. Maybe, if Rick Perry gets elected president, she will become the second governor of Arizona to become Secretary of Homeland Security. And "Blue Dog" Democrat Heny Cuellar - well, maybe Secretary of State.

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