The U.S. Congress has approved the $465 million Plan Mérida for drug interdiction last week, $65 million of which is planned go to Central America, as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
If all goes to plan, Costa Rica will share that cash with Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
The remaining $400 million is dedicated to combating drug trafficking in Mexico, the origin or transit point of most of the narcotics that enter the United States.
Although the appropriations bill passed, meaning the money is available, the $65 million’s specific destination and purpose has yet to be determined.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said she doesn’t know which Costa Rican ministries would receive how much money. But she said the money would be dedicated to drug interdiction and combating “kleptocracy,” State Department jargon for corruption.
The bill gives few specifics, but rather addresses broader policy goals.
“Sixty-five million may be made available … only to combat drug trafficking, organized crime, for judicial reform, institution building, anti-corruption, rule-of-law activities and maritime security,” states the bill, signed into law by President George W. Bush this week.
The law states $25 million of the $65 million will go to create an “Economic and Social Development Support Fund for Central America.” The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will manage $20 million of that and the State Department will control the other $5 million to be used for educational exchange programs.
Roger Atwood, spokesman for the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), said the State Department has until August to provide more specifics. His organization has been tracking Plan Mérida since it was first proposed last October.
WOLA, which has been critical of the plan, said the $65 million for Central America is little more than a token gesture.
“Sixty-five million can be little more than a down payment for addressing Central America’s pressing security needs,” Maureen Meyer of WOLA said. “The United States should encourage Central American governments to carry out comprehensive police reform initiatives and gang prevention and rehabilitation.”
Calling the resources a “pittance,” Atwood said part of the reason Central American countries didn’t receive more is because they didn’t ask for more.
“There are many reasons for this, but part of it was the lack of concrete funding proposals by the Central American governments themselves, unlike the Mexicans,” he said.