The U.S. ambassador to Mexico is concluding discussions with the Mexican government of President Felipe Calder?n to provide U.S. military assistance to assist Mexico in combating Mexican drug lords, according to the Democratic congressman from Laredo, Texas.

President Bush is scheduled to discuss the subject at the upcoming Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America third summit meeting at Montebello, Quebec, on Aug. 20-21. An announcement of a final plan may not come until after the SPP summit, depending on the progress of the talks in Montebello.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told WND Friday he had consulted with U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Antonio O. Garza, Jr., about discussions Garza was having with the Calder?n government on behalf of the Bush administration.

“I first talked with Ambassador Garza back in April when I was in Mexico with our homeland security committee,” Cuellar explained, “and we talked about the campaign Calder?n was launching then when he first took office to extradite to the U.S. drug kingpins and started sending troops down to the drug hotspots. This was very different than any other president of Mexico had ever done.”

“Ambassador Garza feels we have a window of opportunity right now while Calder?n still has political capital in his first year in office where we can help Calder?n in this very difficult war against drugs,” Cuellar argued. “This is the time we can come in and assist Mexico in a partnership where we provide military assistance to Calder?n military that is trying to win this very difficult war.”

Cuellar told WND he believed that the subject of military assistance to Mexico to combat the drug cartels would be discussed at the upcoming third summit of the SPP to be held by Bush, Calder?n and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“Whether there will be any announcement at the Montebello SPP summit meeting or not,” Cuellar said, “will depend on how much progress the leaders make on the subject. An announcement may come a little bit after the meetings. The conversations with Mexico are going on and I do support President Bush on this particular point.”

In an interview with WND last Thursday, Yolanda Urrabazo, spokeswoman for Cuellar, told WND the discussions with Mexico had included the possibility of utilizing the U.S. military directly in the effort in addition to providing military assistance.

On Friday, Cuellar stressed he favored limiting U.S. military assistance to equipment and training, not troops on the ground.

“We have to be extremely careful because of historical sensitivities that we have to be very aware of,” Cuellar pointed out. “Mexico has always been very cautious in working with the United States. As a sovereign nation, Mexico does not want the U.S. to come in and meddle in their internal affairs. We have to be very sensitive about their concern as a sovereign nation.”

The U.S. State Department acknowledged to WND that Garza was in serious discussions with the Calder?n government about providing Mexico military assistance.

The State Department refused to expand on comments on comments made by spokesman Sean McCormack in an Aug. 8 press briefing.

There, McCormack declined to get into the details of ongoing discussions with Mexico, commenting only that, “We are talking to them about how it is that we might fight this common problem. It is a problem for Mexico, it is a problem for the United States. And inasmuch as it is a problem for both countries, the solution lies both in – with the United States and with Mexico.”

McCormack went on to say that, “President Calder?n has taken a brave and firm stance in fighting these drug cartels, fighting the – all the activities associated with the production and transit of illicit narcotics. And we want to talk to him about how we can support that effort and that’s really the focus of the ongoing discussions.”

Cuellar acknowledged that the discussions about providing U.S. military assistance to Mexico in the drug war mark a shift in Mexican policy.

“The Calder?n government is now willing to discuss a partnership with the U.S. government involving U.S. military assistance to fight the drug war in Mexico,” Cuellar continued. “This is a policy shift based on necessity to address the growing violence we are seeing in Mexico because of the drug war.”

“I live on the border and I’ve seen for years the growing violence from the drug war across the river in Nuevo Laredo and other parts of Mexico,” Cuellar told WND. “I’ve seen how a new police chief in Nuevo Laredo said he was going to take care of the violence and six hours later he was murdered. We’ve seen how city councilmen and policemen are murdered. We’ve seen how the media in Nuevo Laredo are pretty much silenced by attempts on their lives.”

Cuellar told WND he had spoken to Garza within the past few days and Cuellar could confirm the discussions with Mexico about the U.S. providing military assistance are continuing through Garza’s office.

“My understanding is that the military discussions do not include manpower,” Cuellar stressed. “We are asking the Mexicans what their capacity and I would assume the Mexican military will want equipment, training, and technology. The Mexican military acknowledges that the drug cartels are superior in weapons and technology.”

“One of the top Mexican law enforcement people told me that the only limitation that the drug cartels have is not money, it’s imagination,” Cuellar continued. “What technology to buy, what weapons to have, that’s the only limitation. The drug cartels have all the money they need to buy whatever they decide they want.”

Cuellar said the discussions with Mexico include providing the Mexican military and law enforcement with surveillance equipment, airplanes or helicopters, computer software that can be used in tracking ground movements, and extensive training to go with that equipment.

“This is not like Plan Columbia. It’s more of a partnership than a foreign assistance package,” Cuellar distinguished. “The White House is not saying, ‘OK, we’ll send you the following military hardware.’ In this case, the White House is seeking an ongoing relationship with the Mexican government to know what will work and what will be effective in Mexico as Mexico fights the drug cartels.”

Plan Columbia, launched by the Clinton administration in 2000, involved spraying Columbian coca fields in the attempt to eradicate the supply of cocaine. Critics argue the plan failed to limit cocaine production because coca growers merely increased coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia.

“I am hoping that President Bush will take a more comprehensive approach than just sending Mexico some military equipment,” Cuellar explained. “I would like to see us helping Mexico to professionalize their police force and strengthening their prosecutors and judiciary.”

“There are 60 missing Americans today in the Nuevo Laredo area,” he continued, “and there has not been a single arrest or prosecution that I know of. I am hoping that the president will do more than sending equipment, training, and technology.”

America’s Most Wanted reported as early as February 2005 that Americans who cross the border into Nuevo Laredo to celebrate birthdays, holidays, have dinner or shop are being kidnapped and held for ransom as the Mexican lawlessness prevalent in the town’s drug war has begun to have impact north of the border. Then the number of U.S. citizens reported kidnapped in Mexico was 31.

“I would like to see a more comprehensive approach and I hope we take a look at helping Mexico set up anti-corruption programs for their law enforcement personnel,” Cuellar explained. “Our law enforcement officers don’t know who to trust in law enforcement in Mexico. We have to be sure that sensitive law enforcement information our law enforcement officers share with their counterparts in Mexico isn’t just passed directly into the hands of the drug cartels by corrupt elements in Mexican law enforcement.”

In 2005, Cuellar successfully introduced an amendment to create the National Gang Intelligence Center at the FBI.

WND has reported that on Jan. 17, Cuellar filed H.R.502, entitled the “Prosperous and Secure Neighbor Alliance Act of 2007,” proposing to send military and economic assistance to Mexico to fight the war on the Mexican drug cartels and to stimulate economic growth in Mexico.

H.R. 502 proposed to spend $90 million to provide Mexican law enforcement with sophisticated military technology, training and equipment from the U.S. military to assist Mexico in fighting the drug war.

The other goal of the bill was to spend another $80 million to provide economic development assistance to Mexico under the premise that combating Mexican poverty would also combat Mexican drugs.

H.R. 502 was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The committee press office told WND no hearings on the bill have been scheduled.

The legislation, however, placed Cuellar at the forefront of the effort to involve the U.S. military in Mexico’s war on the drug cartels.

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