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Bush to propose tens of millions of dollars in anti-drug aid for Mexico, congressman says

    WASHINGTON — President Bush will propose tens of millions of dollars in assistance to Mexico to fight drug trafficking and violence that has ravaged the country and threatens to spill over into the U.S., a Texas congressman said Wednesday.
    Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said Congress will come up with the final sum to assist Mexico.
    ‘‘We ultimately are going to come in and do the final package,’’ Cuellar said of Congress. ‘‘He’s going to make the proposal, but the president is going to have to work with us to do this.’’
    The State Department declined to discuss the specifics of the proposal because they are still being negotiated with Mexican authorities and lawmakers have not yet been fully briefed on the package.
    But officials said they began to talk with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon about new and substantial counter-narcotics aid shortly after he took office in December.
    ‘‘President Calderon has taken a brave and firm stance in fighting these drug cartels and fighting 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,’’ State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday, refusing to comment further.
    One counter-narcotics official who requested anonymity because the package has not been finalized said negotiations are in an advanced stage and it is hoped that at least parts of the program can be announced when presidents Bush and Calderon meet in Canada on Aug. 20 and 21.
    U.S. anti-drug officials have been impressed with Calderon’s crackdown on drug traffickers since he took office. From December through June, Calderon sent more than 24,000 troops to areas plagued by drug violence.
    Calderon has repeatedly pushed the U.S. to take more responsibility in fighting the two countries’ common drug problem, including doing more to stop the flow of illegal U.S. arms into Mexico and trying to combat the demand for drugs north of the border.
    Calderon has said he will work with the U.S. in any way possible to bring down Mexican drug lords.
    But the issue of U.S. aid is a touchy subject among Mexicans, many of whom are wary that U.S. help could lead to interventions that violate Mexican sovereignty. The very idea that a U.S. plan for Mexico might be similar to ‘‘Plan Colombia,’’ — a $5 billion military aid plan that put U.S. troops on Colombian soil — is anathema in Mexico.
    Aware of that public sentiment, Calderon’s administration has kept mum about any possible agreement on U.S. aid. Cuellar said Congress must be mindful of that long-standing view as it develops the aid package.
    ‘‘We want to do this carefully. There has been historical uneasiness in getting assistance from United States. It has to be done in a way to provide assistance, but in such way where the sovereignty and integrity of Mexico is respected. There’s always fear they are a puppet to the U.S.,’’ said Cuellar. His congressional district includes Laredo, which sits across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where some of the heaviest drug violence has occurred.
    Cuellar did not have specifics on the U.S. anti-drug package, but media reports have said the package would include telephone tapping equipment, Blackhawk helicopters, training, radar to track drug shipments, and training.
    Cuellar was uncertain how the package would be funded, but said Bush could present it as an emergency appropriation or Congress may have to fit it into a current appropriations bill. It’s also possible the money would not be provided until next year, he said.
    ‘‘It all depends on the sense of urgency the president will provide. To me there is a sense of urgency, being from the border and seeing what is happening,’’ said Cuellar, also a House Appropriations Committee member.
    ———
    Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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