06/19/13 (written by tianacarriedo) – The Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego has released a new fact sheet on the Mérida Initiative, the $1.9 billion (USD) security assistance package currently at the center of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral security agenda. The fact sheet outlines the goals, origins, and funding trends of the Mérida Initiative. With the recent election of Enrique Peña Nieto in December 2012, the Mérida Initiative has received renewed focus by U.S. and Mexican lawmakers and government officials, primarily due to the new Mexican president’s stated desire to recast the U.S.-Mexico relationship by prioritizing trade and the economy over bilateral security cooperation. Click here to read the “Fact Sheet: Mérida Initiative.”
In the domestic security realm, the Peña Nieto administration has prioritized violence reduction—by emphasizing human rights, crime prevention, and citizen participation—while de-emphasizing confrontation with drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), a pointed departure from the security policy of former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) who tackled DTOs head on, often with the support and assistance of multiple U.S. agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The high level of binational cooperation between officials is currently at stake, as reports indicate that the Mexican government has recently sought to limit, and in some cases cut off entirely, U.S. access to Mexican security and intelligence institutions and personnel.
Indeed, reports by the Washington Post and the New York Times have pointed to a chill in collaboration between Mexican and U.S. officials, with U.S. agents complaining of reduced access to their Mexican partners, especially in areas of intelligence sharing. One significant institutional change that has possibly contributed to a more limited bilateral security relationship is the funneling of all U.S. contact with Mexican government officials through the Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación, Segob). U.S. officials were previously able to interface directly with their Mexican counterparts at various Mexican agencies, generally without interference. This new “one-stop window” and the removal of U.S. officials and contractors at various security centers in Mexico, including a fusion center in Monterrey, Nuevo León, have all contributed to the concern that the unprecedented level of collaboration on security matters that characterized the Calderón years is a thing of the past.
Despite these concerns, there is still ample room for a U.S. role in Mexico’s new crime prevention and violence reduction security strategy. The Mérida Initiative has four priorities, or pillars: to disrupt organized criminal groups, strengthen institutions, build a 21st century border, and create strong and resilient communities. All but the first pillar have received limited consideration up to the present; however, with Peña Nieto’s vow to focus on crime prevention—by reorganizing the federal police, improving policies to find missing persons, and re-focusing on judicial form, among others—there is now momentum to devote more funds and attention to the other three pillars. Though little of this new non-military strategy to combat crime and violence in Mexico has been clearly delineated, much less implemented, the new thrust is important given that the previous security strategy of the Calderón adminstration, which was in part financed by Mérida Initiative funds, did not necessarily yield positive results—in fact, violence increased, with over 60,000 drug-related deaths and 26,000 disappearances reported during the last sexenio (though some figures indicate a leveling of violence in 2012).
The United States may find that the change in priorities of the Mexican government, from military-style operations to institution building programs, and the corollary of reduced intelligence sharing and operational support, need not mean the demise of either the Mérida Initiative or the strong bilateral security relationship. Rather, U.S. financing and assistance for the Mérida Initiative, which has in any case been on a downward trend, will increasingly be marshaled to support police training, judicial reform, border modernization, and youth programs, or simply put, programs aimed at creating and strengthening the rule of law, the absence of which has allowed organized crime to flourish in Mexico.