The Merida Initiative: A Flawed Counterdrug Policy?

The Merida Initiative: A Flawed Counterdrug Policy?

 

by Philip K. Abbott

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Economic integration and dependency under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) successfully paved the way for improved cooperation between the United States and Mexico on a wide range of issues. However, in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the focus of this relationship suddenly shifted from social-economic prosperity to border security issues as U.S. politics became increasingly more polarized concerning homeland security. As U.S. national security, NAFTA and immigration became more and more intertwined, there was growing concern in Mexico.

While the United States was in a heated debate over immigration reform, a national priority for Mexico, the worst stereotypes that each country held about the other quickly resurfaced when Congress failed to pass the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. This along with the enactment of the Secure Fence Act in October 2006 yielded its own particular variety of prejudices and further touched upon deep rooted anti-Americanism. During President Bush's March 2007 visit to Mexico, President Calderon reiterated that a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border only served to strain relations, asserting that job-creation and increased investment in Mexico would be more effective in reducing illegal migration from Mexico than a border fence.

Immigration reform and the United States' growing fear about protecting its border from further terrorist attacks notwithstanding, increasing drug-related violence primarily along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border emerged as a real national security threat for Mexico. President Calderon announced that combating these criminal organizations would be a top priority for his administration. But given the complexity of this transnational threat, President Calderon called for U.S. assistance in combating drug and weapons trafficking. Despite displaying an unprecedented willingness to increase narcotics cooperation with the United States, President Calderon remained adamant that if there was no reduction for demand, it would be very difficult to reduce the supply transiting through Mexico. He also expressed his growing concern over the seemingly lax gun control laws in the United States and how the steady flow of illegal weapons from the U.S. was actually arming the drug cartels.

Even though obstacles and suspicion in U.S.-Mexican relations continue to persist, a new level of understanding was reached when Congress passed the Merida Initiative as part of the Iraq supplemental in June 2008. Viewed by the Bush administration as a successful legislative action, the three-year, $1.4 billion security assistance program to help Mexico, Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti to combat drug trafficking and organized crime, would have to address some key domestic issues for the program to be effective.

While many critics perceive the Merida Initiative as following the same failed strategy as Plan Colombia, only on a larger scale, there are actually a number of different dynamics that influenced the decision-making process. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to first provide an overview of both the Mexican and United States national security environment and how the domestic context actually influenced the decision-making process that helped shape the Merida Initiative. Second, the paper will analyze the nature of institutional struggles and the processes leading up to the passage of the Merida Initiative. And finally, the paper will highlight some of the perceived benefits and shortcomings associated with the Merida Initiative.

Download The Full Article: The Merida Initiative: A Flawed Counterdrug Policy?

Colonel Philip K. Abbott, U.S. Army, is currently the Chief, Americas Division on the Joint Staff, J5 Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate. He received a B.A. from Norwich University, an M.A. from Kansas University, and an M.S. from the National Defense University. He served in various Command & Staff positions in the United States and Europe and worked extensively throughout Latin America as a Foreign Area Officer.

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