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Thursday, January 31, 2013

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

Brazen violence perpetrated by drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and other criminal groups is threatening citizen security and governance in some parts of Mexico, a country with which the United States shares a nearly 2,000 mile border and $460 billion in annual trade. Although the violence in Mexico has generally declined since late 2011, analysts estimate that it may have claimed more than 60,000 lives over the last six years. The 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 DTOs dominate the U.S. illicit drug market and are considered the greatest drug trafficking threat facing the United States.

U.S.-Mexican security cooperation has increased significantly as a result of the development and implementation of the Mérida Initiative, a counterdrug and anticrime assistance package for Mexico and Central America first funded in FY2008. Whereas U.S. assistance initially focused on training and equipping Mexican counterdrug forces, it now places more emphasis on addressing the weak institutions and underlying societal problems that have allowed the drug trade to flourish in Mexico. The Mérida strategy now 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. As part of the Mérida Initiative, the Mexican government pledged to intensify its anticrime efforts and the U.S. government pledged to address drug demand and the illicit trafficking of firearms and bulk currency to Mexico.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to continue U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, albeit with a new focus on reducing violent crime in Mexico. Peña Nieto has reformed the structure of Mexico’s security apparatus, placing the Federal Police and intelligence services under the authority of the Interior Secretary. He also intends to create a gendarmerie (militarized police) to gradually replace military forces engaged in public security efforts and to help states form unified police commands. Peña Nieto’s security strategy prioritizes crime prevention and human rights protection; it also seeks to advance judicial reform. As the Peña Nieto government adjusts Mexico’s security strategy, bilateral efforts and U.S. programs may need to be adjusted. Mexico’s new administration also supports efforts to enact gun control in the United States.

The 113
th Congress is likely to continue funding and overseeing the Mérida Initiative and related domestic initiatives, but may also consider supporting new programs. From FY2008-FY2012, Congress appropriated $1.9 billion in Mérida assistance for Mexico, roughly $1.1 billion of which had been delivered as of November 2012. The Obama Administration asked for an additional $234.0 million in Mérida assistance for Mexico in its FY2013 budget request. Congress has also debated how to measure the impact of Mérida Initiative programs, as well as the extent to which Mérida has adequately evolved to respond to changing security conditions in Mexico. Another issue of congressional interest has involved whether Mexico is meeting the human rights conditions placed on Mérida Initiative funding.

Date of Report: January 14, 2013
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: R41349
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