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Merida Initiative to Combat Illicit Narcotics and Reduce Organized Crime Authorization Act of 2008

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BERMAN. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material on the bill under consideration.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from California?

There was no objection.

Mr. BERMAN. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of this bill and yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, the drug crisis facing the United States remains a top national security threat. The GAO states that 90 percent of illegal drugs entering our country transit the Central American-Mexican corridor.

Drug gangs that operate in the United States, Mexico, and Central America are dangerously undermining the security environment for our neighbors to the south, and the spillover effects on our own soil are undeniable.

President Calderon of Mexico made a brave decision early in his presidency to fight illegal narcotics in a way that no Mexican government had done before, and he and his countrymen have paid a high price for it. Drug cartels have been blamed for 6,000 deaths in two-and-a-half years in Mexico alone, 4,000 of them in the year-and-a-half since Mr. Calderon assumed the presidency.

A significant percentage of these deaths are law enforcement personnel, outgunned and outspent from the proceeds of illegal drugs. There seems to be no limit to the brazenness of the drug gangs. A month ago, the chief of Mexico's Federal police was shot dead in his own home.

It is high time for the United States to do more than applaud President Calderon's courage. We must work together to tackle this difficult problem.

President Bush and President Calderon met in the Mexican city of Merida last year to craft a new and innovative proposal to confront this scourge. That proposal is largely reflected in the legislation we have before us today.

The central tenet of this bill is that, while the violence must stop and security must be restored, the ultimate solution to this problem lies in respect for the rule of law and the strength of institutions charged with upholding it.

H.R. 6028 represents the U.S. implementation of a new partnership with Mexico and Central American countries to face the immediate security threat of drug gangs, help these neighbors build the capacity of their law enforcement agencies, and enhance the rule of law in the region.

As many of my colleagues know, the supplemental appropriations bill includes funding for year one of the Merida Initiative, but the legislation before us today authorizes the full 3 years of this plan in an exhaustive and complete manner necessary to undertake this critical partnership with our southern neighbors.

For example, this legislation authorizes $1.6 billion over 3 years in the areas of counter-narcotics, the fight against organized crime, law enforcement modernization, institution building, and rule of law support.

Mexico has requested that the U.S. provide certain high-tech equipment. And in this bill we authorize transport helicopters with night operating capabilities, aerial and radar surveillance equipment, land and maritime interdiction equipment, and secure communication networks.

This legislation supports a variety of programs designed to enhance the transparency and capacity of civilian institutions at the Federal, State and local level. They include assistance in courts management, prison reform, money laundering capabilities, witness protection, and police professionalization. The latter emphasizes human rights and use of force training, as well as forensics and polygraph capabilities.

In the realm of prevention, the bill supports programs to increase school attendance and expansion of intervention programs. It also seeks to promote development in areas where joblessness feeds the narcotics problem, including alternative livelihood and rural development efforts.

It concentrates considerable funding in the fragile Central America region, as well as in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in programs tailored to that region's specific needs.

The legislation contains significant human rights safeguards as well as end-use monitoring provisions for equipment and training. It provides no cash transfers.

It calls on the President to devise standards up front that will be used to measure the success of the initiative, and to regularly report to Congress on progress made toward meeting these standards.

Significantly, because this was a specific request from our Mexican neighbors, the legislation bolsters by $73.5 million America's efforts to stem the illegal flow of arms going south by significantly expanding ATF's Project Gun Runner.

Finally, the bill establishes a coordinator for the initiative to provide accountability and harmonize its wide-ranging programs.

Perhaps most importantly the legislation recognizes that the spread of illicit drugs through Mexico and Central America and into the United States, as well as the violence that accompanies it, cannot be halted without a comprehensive interdiction and security strategy planned and executed jointly with our southern neighbors. Madam Speaker, with this authorization of the Merida Initiative we demonstrate our Nation's commitment to work closely with our friends and neighbors to the south in a meaningful and long-term fashion to battle illegal narcotics.

I strongly urge all my colleagues to support this legislation.

Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute of time if I may.

The gentleman from Ohio raises an issue of controversy between the United States and Mexico. What I urge the Members of this body to do is to focus on the purpose of this initiative. This is an initiative that is in America's deep national interest. The whole issue of illicit narcotics trade, the role of the corridor between Central America and Mexico in contributing and supplying these illicit narcotics, the war going on in Mexico between the drug cartels, and a president and a leadership that is now taking this head on serves our national interests. Our effort to stem illegal immigration is directly connected, and the effectiveness of it will be greatly dependent on our ability to stop these cartels and to smash this trade in illicit narcotics.

Whatever one's concern is about a particular aspect of the U.S.-Mexican relationship, I would suggest from America's interest point of view that this issue, this initiative, is a compelling one and should be supported.

I am now pleased to yield 3 minutes to chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection and a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ms. SHEILA JACKSON-LEE of Texas.

(Ms. JACKSON-LEE of Texas asked and was given permission to revise and extend her remarks.)

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Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record an exchange of letters between the distinguished chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and myself.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,

COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY,

Washington, DC, June 6, 2008.
Hon. HOWARD L. BERMAN,
Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

DEAR CHAIRMAN BERMAN: This is to advise you that, as a result of your working with us to make appropriate revisions to provisions in H.R. 6028, the Merida Initiative to Combat Illicit Narcotics and Reduce Organized Crime Authorization Act of 2008, that fall within the rule X jurisdiction of the Committee on the Judiciary, we are able to agreed to discharging our committee from further consideration of the bill in order that it may proceed without delay to the House floor for consideration.

The Judiciary Committee takes this action with the understanding that by forgoing further consideration of H.R. 6028 at this time, we do not waive any jurisdiction over subject matter contained in this similar legislation. We also reserve the right to seek appointment of an appropriate number of conferees to any House-Senate conference involving this important legislation, and request your support if such a request is made.

I would appreciate your including this letter in the Congressional Record during consideration of the bill on the House floor. Thank you for your attention to this request, and for the cooperative relationship between our two committees.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.,
Chairman.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,

COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS,

Washington, DC, June 6, 2008.
Hon. JOHN CONYERS, Jr.,
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for your letter regarding H.R. 6028, the Merida Initiative to Combat Illicit Narcotics and Reduce Organized Crime Authorization Act of 2008.

I appreciate your willingness to work cooperatively on this legislation. I recognize that the bill contains provisions that fall within the jurisdiction of the Committee on the Judiciary. I acknowledge that the Committee will not seek a sequential referral of the bill and agree that the inaction of your Committee with respect to the bill does not waive any jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee over subject matter contained in this bill or similar legislation.

Further, as to any House-Senate conference on the bill, I understand that your committee reserves the right to seek the appointment of conferees for consideration of portions of the bill that are within the Committee's jurisdiction.

I will ensure that our exchange of letters is included in the Congressional Record during the consideration of House debate on H.R. 6028, and I look forward to working with you on this important legislation. If you wish to discuss this matter further, please contact me or have your staff contact my staff.

Cordially,

Howard L. Berman,
Chairman.

I urge very strongly, don't make the best the enemy of the better. This is a very important proposal for the American people, for our interests. Yes, more police here, more Border Patrol, better technology, better employer verification. But understand what is going on in Mexico. This is a compelling initiative for our interests.

I urge an ``aye'' vote.

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