We are living in historic moments amidst a key presidential election in which democracy and international cooperation are at stake including the bilateral relation between Mexico and the United States. November 3rd is just around the corner and there is a real possibility of reuniting a divided nation, as Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz recently said.
However, the security paradigm through which Mexico and the US have cooperated during the past 13 years is broken. It has lost reliability and there is no guarantee of cooperation going forward. Created in 2007, the Merida Initiative was an ongoing bilateral effort designed to improve border security and to get tighter control of organized crime. In practical terms, its objective was to improve law enforcement in Mexico to control, prevent and decrease crime, violence and illicit drug trafficking.
For years, these shared objectives were a priority for both countries. However, the recent arrests in US soil of two high-ranking former Mexican officials -former Defense Minister, Salvador Cienfuegos, and former Security Minister, Genaro García Luna- have made clear that corruption directly impacts the credibility of Mexico’s law enforcement and military institutions along with the collaboration with the US government.
Given the arrests some important questions arise: Was there ever any real cooperation between both countries? What will happen to US-Mexico security cooperation? How will the US Presidential elections affect the continuity of the shared security goals?
On both sides of the border, the Merida Initiative has lost some ground despite billions of dollars and funding and having represented an important partnership between three successive administrations both in the US and Mexico. However, some observers have challenged the usefulness of such partnership and consider that the damage done by the recent arrests is immeasurable.
One odd thing is that both the Cienfuegos and the García Luna arrests in the US have not forced a deepening in the cooperation between the Trump and López Obrador Administrations. Despite the US criminal indictments for their alleged ties to drug cartels during their time in office, the Mexican government hast stated it will not carry out its own domestic investigation around the activities of both former officials. Nor has the López Obrador Administration began a review of the potential networks of complicity within the Mexican armed forces. Postponing any Mexican investigation into Cienfuegos and García Luna in light of US allegations constitutes a crucial mistake particularly for those Mexican victims of violence and of due process. Mexico could have begun its own criminal investigation and could have begun a parallel prosecution to the ones currently carried out by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. However, Mexico has made no attempt to ask US authorities for cooperation on such matters.
The total funds appropriated by the US Congress for the Merida Initiative amounts to 0.5% of total bilateral aid appropriated to Iraq and Iran in 20 years, according to US figures. This is a relatively small amount. We can say that the upcoming Presidential election is key for the future of the US-Mexico relationship on issues like security cooperation, the fight against illicit drug trafficking and how to deal with corrupt officials undermining such efforts.
Both countries have many challenges ahead. If Democrats win the White House, both countries can establish a new framework to join forces and create a better and more solid understanding. If the Republican Party continues in the White House, we can expect that the relationship will continue to be fragmented and with little possibility of dialogue. Despite the lack of interest, we should not settle on the little interest that both governments show on institutional building. In Mexico, should definitely aim for better law enforcement institutions both at the local and federal level. We should also push for justice and security reforms in Mexico that meet the interests of all stakeholders and that strengthen public policy. We should aim to uphold the promise of truly fighting illegality without creating so much violence.
* Nuria Palou is a member of the #SeguridadSinGuerra citizen collective in Mexico City (Security without war) and collaborates with Justicia Transicional MX, a think tank focused on transitional justice. She is also a member of the Young Advisory Council of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation. The U.S.-Mexico Foundation is a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant. Twitter: @usmexicofound