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Mack Stresses Comprehensive Approach with Merida Initiative

Location: Washington, DC

At a joint hearing of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the House Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism this morning, Congressman Connie Mack (FL-14), the Ranking Republican, stressed the importance of taking a comprehensive approach with the Mérida Initiative in an effort to combat drug trafficking and crime at the U.S. -- Mexico border.

In response to comments made about strengthening U.S. gun control laws, Mack stated that the U.S. should protect Americans' Second Amendment rights and enforce the gun laws we have now instead of creating new gun control laws.

Mack's opening statement at the hearing, as prepared, follows:

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

"I want to thank both Chairman Cuellar and Chairman Engel for holding this hearing on U.S.-Mexico cooperation at such an important time.

"I would also like to thank our witnesses for being here today.

"First, I feel the need to address President Calderón's recent visit to the United States. The visit increased awareness of the crucial relationship between Mexico and the United States. It also raised a few red flags, and I'd like to talk about one of those for just a minute.

"During his address to Congress, President Calderón said that the United States needs to enact new, stricter gun control laws. As an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, I strongly disagree. I think we should enforce the gun laws we have on the books right now. We cannot allow others to use this situation in order to advance their gun ban agenda here in the United States.

"The fact is, this is really a border issue. We need to strengthen security on our borders, and utilize the funds we have appropriated for the Mérida Initiative to address the violence and illegal activity originating from Mexico.

"Mexico is facing extreme violence that is increasing in scope and brutality. A war is waging across our southern border that has killed over 14,000 individuals since 2008. U.S. assistance is now more important than ever. If implemented successfully, this assistance will increase security on both sides of the border.

"As we evaluate U.S. -- Mexico security cooperation, and the next steps for the Mérida Initiative, we must look at what we have accomplished to date. It is my understanding that less than two percent of what we have appropriated for Mexico over the past three years has actually found its way onto the ground. This is completely unacceptable. At this rate, we cannot tell taxpayers that this money is working to make them safer.

"Why have we been unable to provide time-sensitive, targeted assistance?

"President Calderón, the people of Mexico, the military and the Mexican government have bravely fought against the drug trafficking organizations and I applaud their endless courage. Given the proximity and partnership between the U.S. and Mexico, it is in the U.S.'s interest to prioritize this fight against illegal drug trafficking, and move the money through the pipeline so the program can be implemented without delay.

"The longer it takes the U.S. to provide targeted assistance, the more difficult it is to uproot the sophisticated drug network. For example, Mexico has its own porous southern border through which the strongest Mexican drug trafficking gangs have made deep inroads with Central American gangs. As a result of this arrangement, the Mexican cartels have a refined trafficking network and the Northern Triangle -- Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- have murder rates that roughly double those of Mexico. The Mérida Initiative incorporates Central America and the Caribbean in order to counter this balloon effect of the drug trade. Yet negligible amounts of aid have been spent in these regions.

"Meanwhile, drug-related threats to freedom, security and prosperity in South America cannot be ignored.

"The free flow of illicit drugs through Venezuela continues unchecked. Both Peru and Paraguay have recently declared a state of national emergency in response to increasing territorial control of armed groups with ties to narco-terrorists. Now Jamaica is following suit.

"The drug trade is a complex problem that threatens to destabilize countries throughout the Hemisphere. I am a co-sponsor of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act, led by my counterpart Chairman Engel, which establishes a Commission to provide comprehensive oversight of our domestic and Hemisphere-related drug policies. I want to thank my colleague once again for spearheading this effort. In addition to better management of our current drug policies, we also need to establish a comprehensive regional drug strategy.

"A comprehensive strategy must include increasing opportunities within the formal workforce by bolstering economies in the Hemisphere. The North American Free Trade Agreement has established jobs on both sides of the border and Mexico will continue to reap the benefits as it further liberalizes its domestic economy. Assisting in this effort is an important step in taking power from the drug cartels while creating strong commercial ties between our nations. Passing the pending trade agreements with Colombia and Panama will further weaken drug trafficking organizations.

"Establishing respect for the rule of law and increasing enforcement of legal standards is another long-term effort required of any successful strategy. The Mérida Initiative incorporates this aspect through police and judicial reform. However, to be successful, it must integrate an expanded long-term approach within the individual countries across the region.

"Mérida was designed to provide a comprehensive approach. At this point, however, little about the implementation appears comprehensive.

"These issues must be addressed as we discuss next steps for the Mérida Initiative.

"Also, I would like to take a moment to address a current and related issue of concern -- in my opinion, the new Arizona immigration law strikes a severe blow to the principles of freedom that define our country. There's no question that our nation's immigration policies are in dire straits.

"We all agree that inaction by both the Bush and Obama Administrations has compounded this problem and forced states like Arizona to take drastic measures. However, the requirement of law enforcement officials to stop anyone based on "reasonable suspicion" flies in the face of the freedom we believe in as a nation. We must improve our border security both north and south, and make certain that we have sufficient resources in place to enforce our immigration laws.

"Thank you Mr. Chairman for the time, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses."

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