MEXICO CITY -- The United States said Thursday it has approved the release of an additional $99 million to help Mexico in its battle against violent drug cartels, part of more than $1 billion in promised aid under the so-called Merida Initiative.
"These funds are currently being programmed to purchase aircraft and non-intrusive inspection equipment for the Mexican military, which will give it additional capability to support efforts to secure its national territory, both land and maritime, and to detect smuggling of drugs, cash and weapons," U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza said about the latest installment in a statement issued here.
"Although this is a long term process, we expect that Mexico will begin receiving some of this equipment as early as this fall," he said.
The funds will be channeled through the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency and are intended to ensure that both countries can rely on "a deeper, more meaningful partnership" within the Merida Initiative, the U.S. envoy said.
This plan, agreed upon by U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexico's Felipe Calderon at a March 2007 summit in the Mexican resort city of Merida, calls for Washington to provide a total of $1.4 billion in crime-fighting assistance to its southern neighbor.
The funds are to go to programs to improve law enforcement, intelligence sharing and the training of Mexican security forces.
A first installment of $197 million was released late last year and went toward the purchase of equipment and technology and the training of various law enforcement agencies.
With the amount freed up Thursday, the total now provided to Mexico in anti-narcotics aid comes to $296 million.
Ambassador Garza, a Bush appointee, said the incoming Barack Obama administration will maintain the commitment "to our shared goals with Mexico under the Merida Initiative, reducing the threat of crime and violence associated with narco-trafficking on both sides of the border."
Some in Mexico have criticized the project, which they fear could lead to the further militarization of their country and increased violations of human rights by security forces that are already notorious for such abuses.
Violence blamed on drug cartels has claimed some 8,300 lives in Mexico since the rightist Calderon took office in December 2006. Last year's death toll - 5,630 according to capital daily El Universal - more than doubled that of 2007.
The United States is the main market for the cocaine and other illegal drugs smuggled out of Mexico and also the source of most of the weapons that flow to the heavily armed cartels.