Responding to a growing sense that the military-led fight against drug trafficking organizations has failed to curb violence across our southern border, the United States and Mexico formally announced a shift in their counter-narcotics strategy last week. The “new stage” in bilateral cooperation will aim to strengthen civilian law enforcement institutions and rebuild communities crippled by poverty and crime.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico City last Tuesday with a delegation that included the top U.S. military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and top officials from the DEA, Justice Department, border security, and other agencies. Their visit marked the second high-level consultation meeting under the auspices of the Merida Initiative. (The meeting had been planned for months, but it took on greater urgency in the aftermath of the killing of three people—including two U.S. citizens—with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.)
The meeting laid the foundations for the second phase of the Merida Initiative. The first phase, launched in 2008, was designed to spend $1.12 billion to battle organized crime in Mexico through the provision of military hardware and training for police officers, judges, prosecutors and public defenders. However, as turf war violence escalated across a string of border cities, the 45,000 troops deployed onto Mexico’s streets increasingly became the visible face of Calderón’s strategy—and frontloaded Merida with military assistance.