Page last updated at 09:06 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

US gives Mexico anti-drug funding

Mexican soldier guards drugs cash
Mexico has deployed some 40,000 troops in its anti-drug crackdown

A $197m (133m) aid package to help Mexico fight drugs cartels has been released by the US government.

It is part of the Merida Initiative, a $400m (270m) scheme to assist Mexico's efforts to take on the drugs trade.

US Ambassador Tony Garza formally unveiled the programme, which includes the donation of helicopters and surveillance aircraft, in Mexico City.

Mexican newspaper El Universal says at least 5,000 people have been killed in drugs-related violence this year.

The newspaper, which has been keeping tallies for the past four years, said that the number of people killed by organised crime was on course to be double the 2,700 deaths registered in 2007.

Deaths had been happening at an average of one an hour during the past 42 days, El Universal said.

Corruption fears

In the last two years, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has deployed more than 40,000 troops, along with federal police, in a crackdown on drug gangs in the country.

Mexico is in the midst of a major campaign against immensely powerful cartels that traffic cocaine and other drugs to consumers in the United States, says the BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City.

Ninety percent of all the cocaine consumed in the United States is believed to reach the country via Mexico.

President Felipe Calderon, has long sought, and been promised, financial aid from Washington to try to defeat the traffickers.

The initiative is part of a $1.6bn (1.1bn) US plan to help train and equip security forces and strengthen justice systems in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

The aid has been held up for months, partly because US legislators were concerned that the money might end up in the hands of corrupt Mexican officials.

None of the $197m which has just been released will be in the form of cash.

Instead equipment is being provided to enable American and Mexican law enforcers to work more closely together.

Forces unleashed

The deal comes at at time when the drug war in Mexico appears to be having increasingly violent.

In Tijuana last weekend, for example, there were 25 murders, including nine decapitations.

What the numbers signify is open to interpretation, our correspondent says.

The Mexican Government says that the increased killings are often the result of leaderless drug gangs turning on each other for the fewer spoils that remain.

But some analysts fear that by taking on the drug runners, President Calderon has unleashed forces he arguably will not be able to control.

There is plenty of evidence that Mexican law enforcement agencies have been extensively infiltrated by the cartels.

The government is having to rely on the army to police parts of the country.

Mr Calderon says his war on drugs will be long and difficult. In that, he is being proved right, our correspondent says.

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