10 Years of the Mérida Initiative: Violence and Corruption

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The Mérida Initiative celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. Yet since it began providing funding for security in Mexico, problems to do with violence and institutionalized corruption have worsened, suggesting flaws in both the approach and implementation of the Initiative.

The origins of the Mérida Initiative, a bilateral security cooperation agreement between Mexico and the United States, hark back to 2007 when former president Felipe Calderón appealed to the administration of President George W. Bush for assistance in tackling drugs and arms trafficking.

Since signing the agreement, the Mexican government has received nearly $2.9 billion in assistance from the United States. This assistance has supported the purchase of military equipment; training for judiciary personnel and improvement of courtroom infrastructure; military training along Mexico’s southern border; and the implementation of crime prevention programs.

Critics state that the Initiative focuses too heavily on the use of military forces to tackle organized crime. US aid to the program supported former President Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs, which led to a spike in homicide rates across the country that continue to rise today.

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The Mérida Initiative is also known for the hand it played in implementing widespread judicial reform in Mexico.

The reforms introduced an adversarial public trial system in which two advocates argue their cases in front of an impartial body in a formal, public courtroom. Previously, Mexico had relied on a less transparent inquisitorial system, with all trials taking place behind closed doors. However, corrupt practices remain a huge obstacle under the new system.

Insight Crime Analysis

Despite ambitious aims and heavy financial investment, the Mérida Initiative has so far proven ineffective in improving security in Mexico, and the future does not look much brighter.

The Mérida Initiative has failed to tackle two pervasive obstacles to security in Mexico: widespread violence and institutionalized corruption.

Firstly, the initiative has continuously supported violent and aggressive tactics for fighting organized crime.

Fighting fire with fire has led to an escalation in the number of deaths in Mexico since the initiative began. Kingpins have fallen, yet major transnational criminal organizations remain at large.

“Declaring a war on drugs seems logical from the US perspective, but not from the Mexican,” Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, associate professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government, told Insight Crime.

The high-profile trials of kingpins such as Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias El Chapo, appear to be a proactive step in the fight against organized crime. However, the removal of kingpins fragments criminal groups, sending the criminal underworld into chaos. New groups such as the infamous Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) have formed as a result of the fracturing of older cartels.

Secondly, the initiative seems to have done little to root out existing corruption within Mexican institutions.

Last year, the arrest of Javier Duarte, the former governor of Veracruz, provided an example of one of the worst cases of institutionalized corruption in Mexico’s history. Recently, the Attorney General’s office announced investigations into federal magistrates related to the case, as the network of corrupt officials expands further.

The initiative did aim to tackle corruption in the courtroom, with the implementation of a new judiciary system. However, this attempt at reform was marred by practical issues, as the attempt to force American-style legal processes onto the corrupt and inefficient Mexican judiciary system proved taxing.

Resources lacked to provide police and prosecutors with the training needed to adapt to their new roles in the system. Weak institutions struggled to handle the demands of implementing the vast reforms as progress at state-level varied greatly.

“The problem is there was no homogeneity with regards to implementation. The framework was well thought through but, really, positive results have not yet been visible,” Professor Correa-Cabrera told Insight Crime.

Recent U-turns by president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggest that such issues will not improve any time soon.

López Obrador intends to create a national guard, indicating that the focus of his security policy will not shift away from militarization, despite campaign promises to the contrary. The president-elect has also announced that he will grant pardons to those suspected of corruption under previous governments, an indication of continued impunity for many.

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