- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2008


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.


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.”

Robin Naysmith, head of the embassy’s Scottish office, added, “For many people around the world, scotch it’s the first thing they associate with Scotland.”

He also plugged Scotland’s celebration next year of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, saying, “Scotland is having a party - a massive party.”

Called the “Homecoming,” it begins on Jan. 25, the poet’s birthday, and ends on Nov. 30, St. Andrew’s Day, dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland.

Burns exalted scotch in a poem that referred to the iconic John Barleycorn, the personification of liquor distilled from barley.

“Blessings on thee, John Barleycorn, thou king of grain!” he wrote.

Mr. Naysmith, in response to Mr. Sheinwald’s admission that he has no Scottish blood, said, “We’re working on your Scottish ancestry. If we can claim President-elect Obama, we can claim Sir Nigel Sheinwald.”

Mr. Obama is thought to have Scottish ancestors on his mother’s side that could date to King William the Lion, who ruled Scotland from 1165 to 1214.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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