By Tábata N. Rodríguez Talamás *
What happened to the Mérida Initiative? Before digging deeper, it is elemental to analyze its origins. The scope of this agreement between the U.S. and Mexico goes far past two decades of a simple commitment in the field of counternarcotics. Back in December 2006, then-President Felipe Calderon set afloat the newest phase of Mexico’s war on drugs by sending Mexican military troops to the State of Michoacán to engage drug cartels fighting over some lucrative territory. Within two months of taking office, Calderón deployed the military across many other regions of Mexico, leaving behind increased levels of murders, gun shootings and corruption. A year later, the U.S. began providing major anti-crime equipment requested by the Mexican government in what was the outset of the so-called Mérida Initiative.
The Mérida Initiative main goal was to help reduce violence in Mexico and mitigate effects of the illicit trafficking of drug and firearms. Ever since 2008, U.S. assistance to Mexico for this purpose has been of roughly US $3.3 billion. Mérida’s bilateral security efforts focused mainly on border security, counternarcotics, institution building, and public security –which has always come in the form of equipment, vehicles, aircraft, IT infrastructure, detection canines, trainings, and capacity-building programs. Through these programs, the US assisted Mexican actors across the justice sector, including police, investigators, prosecutors, public defenders, corrections personnel, and forensic scientists. US training also included Mexican customs and immigration agents. The general goal of the U.S. collaboration was to strengthen the Mexican government’s capacity to keep citizens safe and reinforce rule of law.
Overtime, this agreement has adapted to emerging threats in both countries reflecting the U.S. and Mexican joint strategic priorities. In October 2021, both governments announced the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities, a new agreement that intends to replace the Mérida Initiative and focus more on economic development. While the rhetoric has changed, U.S.-Mexico security cooperation is still bound to the legacy of the Mérida era. The Biden and López Obrador administrations seek to leave behind the war-like security approach originally associated with Mérida Initiative and to prioritize more effective strategies to support broader peace and prosperity. In this context, the U.S. and Mexico governments seek to reopen and improve bilateral channels to help the most vulnerable communities, prevent criminal organizations from harming citizens, and pursue and bring criminals to justice.
The injection of U.S. government funding and increased military cooperation continued to flow into Mexico for many years despite evidence of serious human rights violations. Mexico’s war on drugs would have never been possible without the Mérida Initiative. So, how was this benefiting the U.S.? Why would the U.S. government be so keen on aiding Mexico’s drug war? It must be said too that U.S. firearms manufacturers are somewhat responsible for facilitating the trafficking of firearms into Mexican territory. This in itself created more fertile ground for the Mérida Initiative as the U.S. Government need to counter illegal arms and drug trafficking in both countries.
The Mérida Initiative opened a space for bilateral discussion on security that had been closed for many years in the area of counternarcotics. While we deconstruct these historic events through each country political and economic domestic agendas, what stands out now is a new era of cooperation. Let’s hope for a long-term approach of binational policies to pursue the safety and security of our societies.