Plan to train Mexican officers is slow to start
February 26, 2012 7:17 PM
In August, the Webb County Sheriff's Office hailed a new cross-border
training agreement endorsed by the U.S. State Department as a step
toward helping Mexican law enforcement agencies beef up their ranks.
But six months later, little more than initial planning has taken place.
Webb County officers won't characterize the state of affairs as a
stalemate, but instead as a byproduct of the climate surrounding this
year's Mexican elections and the memories of public corruption in
"Just like we do on this side, when we're looking at the possibility
of a new president being elected, things move slower than usual,"
said Federico Garza, Webb County chief deputy.
A memorandum of understanding signed last summer paved the way for
Mexican law enforcement officers from the state of Tamaulipas to
partner with the Webb County Sheriff's Department and learn to train
and recruit legitimate law enforcement officers. It was touted as a
key step in the multiyear aid effort known as the Mérida Initiative,
a $1.5 billion aid package signed by then-President George W. Bush in
2008 to help Mexico, Central America and Haiti combat organized
crime. The South Texas program will be the first of its kind on the
The training component signaled the start of Mérida's next phase
following a multiyear focus on supplying Mexican authorities with
modern technology and other equipment. To date, the U.S. has provided
about $900 million worth of equipment and training to Mexico,
according to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City.
The State Department did not return calls seeking comment on the Webb
County program, but Garza said the delay is expected, adding that the
precarious situation in the Mexican state makes acting prudently a
"The (Mexican) military is in control, so it's not like saying 'Let's
go grab this police department and train them,'" he said. "We are
going to need to start from scratch, to screen people and find the
right candidates. There are complicated steps that we have to take
and have to be in place."
And though public corruption is commonplace across Mexico, there is
likely to be more scrutiny of programs in Tamaulipas due to the
recent news that its governor from, 1999 to 2004, Tomás Yarrington,
has been linked in court documents to a man charged with money
laundering crimes this month. Yarrington, who has not been charged
and denies any wrongdoing, has been linked to Antonio Peña Argüelles
and Zeta leaders Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and Miguel Treviño
Morales, two of the cartel's top enforcers. An affidavit alleges that
Peña funneled money from the cartel to Yarrington and other
Garza said that specter of public corruption is forever present,
which makes the vetting process for potential Mexican trainers even
"It's not like training over here, where you have a trainer that is
TCLEOSE-certified," he said, referring to the Texas Commission on Law
Enforcement Officer Standards and Education. "You have to have the
right mechanisms in place as to charisma, character."
Garza said there have been offers for his officers to participate in
operations already under way, but he said those are less likely
alternatives because the training is being conducted in Mexico.
"I'd feel a lot of safer if we trained … on this side," he said.
To some, the challenges are not a surprise. When the announcement was
made that both countries would shift their focus from technology to
officer training, Ambassador William Brownfield, the assistant
secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law
Enforcement Affairs, warned that the process would not be easy.
"There will be problems, there will be mistakes, there will be
missteps, there will be arguments and confusion as we work our way
through this transition," he said.
Despite the setbacks, Garza said he is in steady communication with
the State Department, and he expects to meet with officials there in
the coming weeks.
"We might be looking at months before anything happens. But I know
it's a project that everybody wants done on our side and on their
side," he said.
Mexicans will choose between three candidates this year to replace
outgoing President Felipe Calderón. Calderón is a member of Mexico's
National Action Party, which will field the country's first female
presidential candidate in Josefina Vázquez Mota.
Experts don't believe candidates from the opposition parties — the
Institutional Revolutionary Party's Enrique Peña Nieto, or Andrés
Manuel López Obrador, from the leftist Party of the Democratic
Revolution — will make Mérida a point of contention leading up to
this summer's election. They believe the bilateral agreement is
likely to continue following the presidential election in July.
"As a general question, I think people on both sides don't want to do
anything that is going to be viewed as controversial, but on the
other hand I don't see any indications that people are backing off,"
said Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
As proof, Olson cited this month's announcement that the two
governments have entered into an agreement where thousands of Mexican
investigators and prosecutors will be trained with U.S. assistance.
Announced by Mexico's Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibañez and
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Earl Anthony Wayne, Proyecto Diamante seeks
to train 2,500 Mexican prosecutors and 6,000 investigators in "core
competencies" over a one-year period, according to a news release
issued by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City this month.
"Proyecto Diamante represents Attorney General Morales' commitment to
the transition from an inquisitorial justice system to a more
accusatorial justice system," Wayne said.
The prosecutors will be trained in Mexico City, and will return to
their local jurisdictions where they will replicate what they have
learned in order to establish a "sustainable institutional framework
for future PGR training," the statement from the embassy stated.
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