The United States and Mexico have agreed to leave behind the Merida Initiative - which was launched 13 years ago to build the capacity of Mexican authorities to combat drug trafficking and criminal organizations - to make way for a new security cooperation agreement that will govern how the two countries cooperate on a wide range of issues.
"It is time for a comprehensive approach to our security cooperation," said U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken from the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as he opened the High-Level Security Dialogue. Blinken said it is time to work on an approach that "sees us as equal partners in defining our shared priorities," and that addresses root causes such as inequality, corruption, and strengthens not only law enforcement, but also health, rule of law, and inclusive economic opportunities.
Referring to migration, he added at a press conference that Washington and Mexico are working to address the root causes of the problem. "Mexico and the United States strongly believe that we need to have a regional work in the face of this. It is a regional approach, a greater sense and also a practical application of the notion of shared responsibility," he added.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard explained that unlike the Merida Initiative the new plan seeks to go beyond capturing drug lords to address drug addictions and the economic and social causes that lead young people to join cartels. "The success of this will be measured by fewer homicides in Mexico and less drug consumption," he said.
Both governments committed, in a joint statement, to investing in public health to address the impacts of drug use, especially opioids; dismantling criminal networks; and preventing cross-border crime by securing modes of travel and trade, reducing arms trafficking, targeting illicit supply chains, and reducing smuggling and human trafficking.
The United States said it would devote more resources to identifying and treating people affected by opioids, while Mexico said it would work with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to launch a program to better manage port containers to limit the importation of precursor chemicals for synthetic drugs such as fentanyl.
Mexico seized approximately 1.3 tons of synthetic opioids last year. In the same year, the United States recorded 93,000 drug overdose deaths. Both governments pledged to target importers of fentanyl and methamphetamine precursor chemicals, their financial networks and secret laboratories, and to work together to reduce arms trafficking.
For her part, the Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, affirmed that both governments are working to achieve safer zones on both sides of the border and to combat problems such as arms and drug trafficking and money laundering. Earlier, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador held a meeting at the presidential palace with Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The President expressed his government's willingness to cooperate and work with Washington within a framework of mutual respect for sovereignty and reiterated the invitation to his counterpart Joe Biden to visit Mexico. The so-called U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities seeks to go beyond the Merida Initiative that was promoted since 2008 during the administrations of former Presidents George Bush and Felipe Calderón.
The Lopez Obrador government has stated that it is not interested in military equipment used in the past in the fight against drug trafficking groups, but that efforts should focus on the causes of drug consumption and migration. The governments insist that their security agencies work closely together, but following the arrest by the United States of former Mexican Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos, and then his release after strong protests from Mexico, tensions have remained.
Cienfuegos was arrested after being secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2019. The former military chief was accused of conspiring with the H-2 cartel to smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana while he was secretary of defense between 2012 and 2018. With Cienfuegos back, Mexico said it would conduct its own investigation, but the process was quickly shut down.
López Obrador attacked the U.S. prosecutors who acted against the general and accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of fabricating the case. Following the incident, Mexico restricted US agents working in the country and lifted their diplomatic immunity.