August 3, 2018 / 6:30 PM / 4 months ago

Incoming Mexican president to review U.S. security cooperation: aide

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will review security agreements with the United States, including the $2.9 billion Merida Initiative, and wants to refocus aid to social and economic projects, a senior security aide said on Friday.

Mexico's President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador makes declarations to the media at his campaign headquarters in Mexico City, Mexico July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

“When the time comes, we will review initiatives such as Plan Merida,” said Alfonso Durazo, who will head a new public security ministry when the government takes office on Dec. 1.

The decade-old Merida Initiative directs aid from U.S. agencies to Mexico to fight organized crime and drug trafficking while training security forces and supporting programs to improve Mexico’s shaky rule of law.

Mexico remains the principal highway for cocaine to the United States and has become the top source of heroin, which is fueling a surge in opioid addiction in the United States.

This fiscal year, the U.S. Congress set aside $145 million for Mexico under the Merida Initiative to help fight the flow of opioids into the United States.

It is not clear whether Mexico will seek to change the focus of Merida away from security assistance, but Lopez Obrador has already asked U.S. President Donald Trump for U.S. help in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America, his preferred approach to fighting illegal immigration and drugs.

Last month, Lopez Obrador said he would cancel the planned purchase of eight military helicopters from the United States as part of cost-cutting measures. The two countries’ security agencies work together on intercepting drugs and capturing kingpins.

Lopez Obrador’s security team also plans to change tack in the drug war by granting amnesty to low level cartel members, decriminalizing marijuana and possibly regulating opium poppy production.

“Military collaboration is not the best way of facing the security problems in our country,” Durazo said. “We must redirect efforts to drive economic and social development in the south, including in Central America.”

“We have to review all the cooperation agreements that exist between our countries,” Durazo said.

On average, the United States has provided about $380 million in aid to Mexico each year since 2010, according to USAID.

The U.S. embassy in Mexico did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Some $2.9 billion has been set aside to fund Merida since its launch in 2008, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, and over $1.6 billion has been delivered in equipment and training, according to the U.S. embassy in Mexico website.

Reporting by Diego Oré; Writing by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Sandra Maler

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