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Wednesday, June 26, 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 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 $500 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 between December 2006 and November 2012. 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.

U.S.-Mexican security cooperation 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) creating 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.

Inaugurated on December 1, 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to continue U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, albeit with a shift in focus toward reducing violent crime in Mexico. Peña Nieto has begun to adjust the process and priorities of U.S.-Mexican efforts, adjustments which President Obama has pledged to support. The Interior Ministry is now the primary entity through which Mérida training and equipment requests are coordinated and intelligence is channeled. The Mexican government is requesting increased assistance for judicial reform and prevention efforts, but limiting U.S. involvement in some law enforcement and intelligence operations. As the Peña Nieto government fleshes out its security strategy, Mérida programs are likely to be adjusted in order to support those efforts that align with U.S. priorities.

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 to FY2012, Congress appropriated $1.9 billion in Mérida assistance for Mexico, roughly $1.2 billion of which had been delivered as of April 2013. The Obama Administration asked for $234.0 million for Mérida programs in in its FY2013 budget request and $183 million in its FY2014 request.

Congress may wish to examine how well the Mexican government’s security strategy supports U.S. interests in Mexico. Congressional approval will be needed should the State Department seek to reprogram some of the funding already in the pipeline for Mérida, or shift new funding to better align with Mexico’s new priorities. Should disagreements occur between Mexican and U.S. priorities, Congress may weigh in on how those disagreements should be resolved. Congress may also debate how to measure the impact of Mérida Initiative programs, as well as the extent to which Mérida has evolved to respond to changing security conditions in Mexico. Another issue of congressional interest involves whether Mexico is meeting the human rights conditions placed on Mérida Initiative funding.

Date of Report: June 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: R41349
Price: $29.95

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