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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: the Mérida Initiative and Beyond

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Kristin M. Finklea
Analyst in Domestic Security

In recent years, U.S.-Mexican security cooperation has increased significantly, largely as a result of the development and implementation of the Mérida Initiative, a counterdrug and anticrime assistance package for Mexico and Central America that was first proposed in October 2007. With the enactment of the FY2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-212) in July 2010, Congress has provided almost $1.8 billion for the Mérida Initiative. Congress provided $248 million of that funding to Central America and included an additional $42 million for Caribbean countries. However, Congress dedicated the vast majority of the funds—roughly $1.5 billion—to support programs in Mexico, with an early emphasis on training and equipping Mexican military and police forces engaged in counterdrug efforts. Escalating drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico has focused congressional attention on the efficacy of U.S-Mexican efforts. Reducing violence associated with organized crime (including drug trafficking), which, by Mexican government estimates, has resulted in more than 34,500 deaths since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, has remained a focus of the Mérida Initiative.

With funding for the original Mérida Initiative technically ending in FY2010 and new initiatives underway for Central America and the Caribbean, the Obama Administration worked with the Mexican government to develop a new four-pillar strategy for U.S.-Mexican security cooperation. That strategy, outlined in the FY2011 budget request, focuses on (1) disrupting organized criminal groups; (2) institutionalizing the rule of law; (3) building a 21
st century border; and (4) building strong and resilient communities. The first two pillars largely build upon existing efforts, whereas pillars three and four broaden the scope of Mérida Initiative programs to include new efforts to facilitate “secure flows” through the U.S.-Mexico border and to improve conditions in violence-prone border cities. The Administration’s FY2011 budget request included $310 million for Mérida programs in Mexico. In the absence of FY2011 appropriations legislation, the 111th Congress passed a series of continuing resolutions (P.L. 111-242 as amended) to fund government programs at the FY2010-enacted level, with the latest extension set to expire on March 4, 2011. On February 14, 2011, the Obama Administration submitted its FY2012 budget request to Congress. The request includes roughly $289.8 million in Mérida-related assistance.

The 112
th Congress is likely to continue funding and overseeing the Mérida Initiative, as well as examining the degree to which the U.S. and Mexican governments are fulfilling their pledges to tackle domestic problems contributing to drug trafficking in the region. Congress may also examine the degree to which the Administration’s new strategy for the Mérida Initiative complements other counterdrug and border security efforts. Given current budget constraints, Congress may also debate how best to measure the impact of current and future Mérida Initiative programs. A July 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended that the State Department develop better performance measures to track progress under Mérida. Another congressional interest is likely to focus on whether human rights conditions placed on Mérida Initiative funding are appropriate or sufficient.

For related information, see CRS Report R41576, Mexico’s Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Rising Violence, by June S. Beittel; CRS Report RL32724, Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress; CRS Report R41075, Southwest Border Violence: Issues in Identifying and Measuring Spillover Violence.

Date of Report: February 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: R41349
Price: $29.95

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