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Wednesday, August 10, 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

Increasing violence perpetrated by drug trafficking organizations and other criminal groups is threatening citizen security and governance in Mexico. According to Mexican government data, organized crime-related violence claimed more than 34,500 lives in Mexico between January 2007 and December 2010. That toll may now exceed 40,000. Escalating violence has increased U.S. concerns about stability in Mexico, a key political and economic ally, and about the possibility of violence spilling over into the United States. Mexican drug trafficking organizations dominate the U.S. illicit drug market and are now considered the greatest organized crime threat facing the United States.

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. Between FY2008 and FY2010, Congress provided $1.5 billion for Mérida Initiative programs in Mexico, with an early emphasis on training and equipping Mexican security forces engaged in counterdrug efforts. As part of the Mérida Initiative, the Mexican government pledged to intensify its efforts against transnational criminal organizations and the U.S. government pledged to address drug demand and the illicit trafficking of firearms and bulk currency to Mexico.

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, adopted in March 2010, 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 programs to include efforts to facilitate “secure flows” through the U.S.-Mexico border and to improve conditions in violence-prone border cities. While the Obama Administration asked for $310 million in Mérida Initiative funding for FY2011, the allocation for Mexico that was included in P.L. 112-10 is not yet available. The Administration also requested $282 million in Mérida assistance for FY2012. As of July 1, 2011, a total of $465.0 million worth of assistance (training and equipment) had been provided to Mexico. For 2011, the total value of deliveries to Mexico is expected to exceed $500 million.

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 and crime 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 as outlined in the 2011 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy. In August 2010, Congress approved $600 million in supplemental funds for border security (P.L. 111-230). Given current budget constraints, Congress may also debate how best to measure the impact of current and future Mérida Initiative programs. 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 and CRS Report R41075, Southwest Border Violence: Issues in Identifying and Measuring Spillover Violence, coordinated by Kristin M. Finklea.

Date of Report: July 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 48
Order Number: R41349
Price: $29.95

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