- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2008

DRUG WAR

The U.S. ambassador to Mexico this week signed an agreement for the first installment on the $400 million crime-fighting program for Mexico to help combat drug wars that are crippling its northern border with the United States.

“This letter of intent we have signed frees up $197 million of the $400 million the U.S. Congress approved from its supplementary funds for fiscal 2008,” said Ambassador Antonio O. Garza.

He said a $136 million package will come later for military cooperation and “economic support funds.” The United States expects to release another $43 million after Mexico completes some “internal reporting documents,” he said. A final installment of $24 million will help cover administrative costs.

The money is part of a $1.6 billion program, called the Merida Initiative, to help combat organized crime in Mexico, Central America and Caribbean nations.

Drug violence has gripped Mexico, where drug gangs are fighting for control of the smuggling business. More than 4,500 people have died this year in drug-related violence, according to news reports from Mexico City.

CHEERS

Scotch whisky, immortalized in song and poetry, got a diplomatic imprimatur Wednesday night at the British Embassy in Washington.

Ambassador Nigel Sheinwald and Scottish diplomats told tall tales, literally, about Scotland’s national drink and toasted a very special commemoration. Friday marks the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.

Gavin Hewitt, a former British ambassador and now chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association in Scotland, cited statistics to prove the popularity of the distilled spirit in the United States.

“Americans empty a pile of scotch bottles the size of the Empire State building every three minutes,” he said. “We ship 12,000 bottles an hour to the United States.”

Mr. Hewitt toasted the anniversary of the end of Prohibition, noting that liquor from the Scottish island of Isla - noted for a peculiar pungent, smoky-flavored scotch compared to the taste of iodine - actually got through customs.

“Some Isla malts still got in during Prohibition because customs officials could not believe that anyone would drink the stuff,” he said.

The toasts to scotch at the reception, co-sponsored by the Scotch Whisky Association and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, quickly turned to praise of Scotland, a small nation that has bred an astounding number of philosophers, economists, inventors, soldiers, statesmen and poets.

“Scotland has a very enviable position in the world,” Mr. Sheinwald said. “There are few people with such instantly recognized brands and icons.”

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