home Crime, Current Affairs, North America Mérida Initiative: helping the War on Drugs?

Mérida Initiative: helping the War on Drugs?

When it was announced in 2007 by George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón, the Mérida Initiative was to change the way the US and Mexico approached the war on drugs. With the transfer of almost $1.5 billion in American aid to Mexico, the decades of distrust and working at cross-purposes were in the past; officials from both nations assured the public that the fight was to be a newly cooperative effort from here on.

According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, beyond the emphasis on cooperation, the package was originally conceived with four goals in mind:

1) break the power and impunity of criminal organizations; 2) assist the Mexican and Central American governments in strengthening border, air, and maritime controls; 3) improve the capacity of justice systems in the region; and, 4) curtail gang activity in Mexico and Central America and diminish the demand for drugs in the region.

The biggest chunk of the Mérida millions came in the form of military hardware like Bell and Blackhawk helicopters and CASA coastal patrol planes, odd instruments indeed for the lowering of drug demand and improving criminal justice frameworks.

In contrast, only around a fifth of the money went to anti-corruption and training programs in Mexico. The negative impact of that decision was compounded by a lack of clarity and a slow implementation; according to the US General Accounting Office, as of December only about 2 percent of the eligible Mérida money had been spent.

But despite some checkered results over the first three years (more on that in a bit), the enhanced security relationship is not coming to an end; the Obama administration, eager to continue the pattern of bilateral cooperation, included another $310 million for México in his budget for FY 2011, which implies phase two of the Mérida Initiative.

Officials say that the upcoming portion of the pact will focus more on strengthening Mexican institutions and fighting corruption, rather than the emphasis on hardware that has characterized the past three years.

To that end, the original four goals have been replaced by another quartet (again courtesy of the Congressional Reseach Service):

1) disrupting the operational capacity of organized crime, 2) institutionalizing Mexico’s capacity to sustain the rule of law (police and judicial reform), 3) creating a 21st century border structure, and 4) building strong and resilient communities.

This change of focus responds to a legitimate criticism of the Initiative in its original form, but one wonders if it goes much beyond the rhetorical. Three-hundred-ten million dollars is a lot easier to spend in the form of a few big vehicles than in a series of labor-intensive programs with an infinite number of moving parts.

Furthermore, the requirements for stronger Mexican institutions and lower levels of corruption are nothing new. The officials’ argument is that now that the firepower gap is taken care of, it’s time to look at corruption, but that’s disingenuous. A lack of government weaponry was never the foremost obstacle to a safer Mexico, and it does not appear that phase one has done a great deal to bring the nation any closer to that or any other relevant objective.

After three years in place, one can’t escape serious ambivalence about the plan, especially regarding corruption and violence. A number of high-ranking officials have been fingered for working for organized crime in the past three years, but it remains unclear what (if anything) the Mérida Initiative had to do with those successes, and corruption remains a major problem.

And despite the billions, Mexico is a more dangerous place today than it was three years ago. Perhaps, as the governments argue, that’s because cornered drug gangs are lashing out and fighting for the scraps of a shrinking industry, which would be a lamentable but unavoidable phase of Mexico’s combat of organized crime.

But even if you accept such an explanation, it’s hard to see how the Mérida money will give the Mexican government the upper hand. The most necessary improvements, from a stronger judicial system to better anti-corruption tools, are issues on which the US can have only a marginal impact, and none at all without the preexisting will from Mexico. Both nations have stuck to boilerplate in justifying for the program, and neither has effectively explained what is the exact benefit of a dozen new helicopters in Mexico.

The most substantial improvement from the Mérida is an improved bilateral relationship between the US and Mexico, a reflection of the cooperation both nations trumpeted when the agreement was hammered out. But for a security pact, greater cooperation is a means rather than the end itself. If the Mérida Initiative has a minimal impact on security, while its continued existence is justified principally by the fear that ending it would entail grave harm to the bilateral relationship, well, that is some expensive circular logic.

That doesn’t make it wrong, but there’s no reason to conclude just yet that the Mérida Initiative has been or will continue to be money well spent. As they move on to phase two, Mexico and the US must do more to link the aid package not just to improvements in hardware, but also a reduction in the public-security threat from organized crime.

2 thoughts on “Mérida Initiative: helping the War on Drugs?

  1. One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to the ongoing open season on hippies, commies, and non-whites in the war on drugs. Cops get good performance reviews for shooting fish in a barrel. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

    The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. Behold, it’s all good. When Eve ate the apple, she knew a good apple, and an evil prohibition. Canadian Marc Emery is being extradited to prison for helping American farmers reduce U. S. demand for Mexican pot.

    The CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) reincarnates Al Capone, endangers homeland security, and throws good money after bad. Fiscal policy burns tax dollars to root out the number-one cash crop in the land, instead of taxing sales. Society rejected the plague of prohibition, but it mutated. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

    Nixon passed the CSA on the false assurance that the Schafer Commission would later justify criminalizing his enemies, but he underestimated Schafer’s integrity. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA shut down research, and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use. Former U.K. chief drugs advisor Prof. Nutt was sacked for revealing that non-smoked cannabis intake is scientifically healthy.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership or an act of Congress to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. God’s children’s free exercise of religious liberty may include entheogen sacraments to mediate communion with their maker.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law holds that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers undersigned that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration. Liberty is prerequisite for tracking drug-use intentions and outcomes.

  2. Thank you for the excellent, informative post! I find it quite interesting that “The biggest chunk of the Mérida millions came in the form of military hardware like Bell and Blackhawk helicopters and CASA coastal patrol planes, odd instruments indeed for the lowering of drug demand and improving criminal justice frameworks.”

Comments are closed.