Human Rights and Civil Society

U.S. Anti-Drug Policy Transitions away from Military Funding, toward Justice Reform

09/19/12—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and Attorney General Eric Holder are meeting with Mexican cabinet members in Washington today, September 19, at an event known as a High-Level Consultative Group, where they will discuss strategies for the professional development of Mexican judges, prosecutors, and police; border security; and the asset seizure of drug cartel members. Judicial capacity building has assumed a high priority position on the bilateral policy-making to-do list, as Mexico is known for its difficulty in being able to hold its criminals accountable for their crimes. The country has an overall 2% conviction rate per crime committed, which is partially attributable to Mexicans’ reticence to report crimes, due to widespread mistrust of the police.

According to the Wall Street Journal, both the United States and Mexico believe that “creating an honest police force, professional judges[,] and a prison system comparable with that in the U.S.” is key to solving the region’s drug violence problem. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobsen has stated that “[S]trengthening the rule of law in Mexico is the area that’s crucial right now.”

This reflects a shift in U.S.-Mexico anti-drug policy. When the U.S.’ $1.9 billion (USD) Merida Initiative began in 2008, for example, it largely financed the Mexican military. In the past two years, however, it has begun to focus on creating effective governance in Mexico. From 2010 to (scheduled) 2013, U.S. funding to the Mexican military has fallen from some $529 million to $67.5 billion. Meanwhile, aid to justice-related institutions, from law schools to prisons, doubled from 2011 to 2012, from $105 million to $201.8 million. The Wall Street Journal predicts that, due to the high cost of military operations and equipment as compared to the training of justice professionals, the United States will likely save money overall by “[t]raining Mexico to handle its own struggle.”

As part of this new policy focus, U.S. professionals have played a significant role in directly training Mexican judicial system actors in recent years, from teaching prison officials to running mock trials with legal personnel. Reportedly, over 7,500 Mexican federal and 19,000 state judicial employees have received U.S.-sponsored training to date. Trainers include government-selected legal experts, American Bar Association members, and even a delegation from the U.S. Supreme Court. The Trans-Border Institute also played a large role in this process, partnering with the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) Law School and the University of San Diego Law School under the support of the Higher Education Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop, host, and execute trainings for members of the Mexican judicial system in both Baja California and San Diego. (To learn more about TBI’s involvement in these trainings, please click here). The Mexican police academy in San Luis Potosí has U.S. law enforcement agents on staff who have trained over 4,500 Mexican federal agents, and it is developing collaborative efforts to train state and federal police throughout the country.

Despite the optimism generated by bi-national joint training initiatives, scholars and experts on the subject have suggested that these efforts are unlikely to produce the desired results unless policy makers improve their ability to “define criteria for success” at each step in the process, as noted by Mexico expert Eric Olson with the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Institute. Additionally, Mexico must ramp up its efforts to stamp out police and judiciary corruption, so that freshly trained officials can employ the knowledge they have gained.


“Mexico debe profundizar reforma judicial y policial: John Kerry.” Vanguardia. July 12, 2012.

Casey, Nicholas. “U.S. Shifts Mexico Drug Fight; Military Aid Plummets as Washington Turns Focus to Bolstering Legal System.” Wall Street. Journal. Sep. 19, 2012.

“Iniciativa Mérida.” United States Embassy, Mexico City, Mexico. (Last visited Sep. 19).

3 thoughts on “U.S. Anti-Drug Policy Transitions away from Military Funding, toward Justice Reform”

  1. Pingback: Something is Broken: Mexican Justice at

  2. As an American Prosecutor, lets see if I understand this right. Obam’s solution to the the Mexican criminal justice mess is to make their system less efficient by emulating the U.S. system. If the U.S. had the case loads the Mexicans have, we too would be overwhelmed. Our 200 million+ gun owners would need them.

  3. Pingback: Legitimized Repression - Chicago Policy Review

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