Here is an excerpt from Sara Miller Llana's article in the Christian Science Monitor:
"US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a high-level meeting in Mexico Tuesday, spoke of a new strategy under the Merida Initiative, the $1.4 billion aid package to help Mexico and Central America fight the scourge of organized crime, which includes a more targeted focus on community-building. Mrs. Clinton, who was in Mexico with, among others, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out plans that span beyond access to military hardware... The four-pronged strategy includes disrupting the criminal organizations, strengthening institutions, building a border that is safe but productive, and boosting communities so they can resist the power of drug traffickers... The announcement by Clinton comes as Mexico has already begun expanding its approach from the military strategy, which remains the key component, to an acknowledgment that social factors that drive violence, such as a lack of jobs, must be addressed, too." Link to Full Article
Analysis: A big deal has been made about this US delegation visit to Mexico, particularly because our SecDef was part of it. Any hint of a US military presence in Mexico is a big diplomatic no-no, but his assistance seems to have gone over well enough. Everyone involved covered a lot of different topics, and it's about time the light bulb went on to clue people in that the problems arising from the drug war are not caused by just drugs. The severity of violence and the extent of the drug trade exist because - Hello?!? - Mexico has other problems, too. It's nice that folks are finally acknowledging the role of sociological factors, but unfortunately, there's no short-term fix for that.
Speaking of fixes, it's great that our folks and their folks had this lovely kumbaya session, but what concrete solutions came out of it?
Well, the State Department has posted its new strategy, titled "United States-Mexico Partnership: Anti-Arms Trafficking and Anti-Money Laundering," on it's website HERE. Actually, I imagine it's only part of the new strategy because the document only covers those two issues - albeit two of the biggest issues. Some of the bullet points talk about meetings or initiatives already undertaken, and others talk about new programs being funded by the Mérida Initiative. That's all well and good, but here are the two major problems I have with this overview of the new strategy.
First, you can send the Mexican government all the firearms tracing and identification equipment in the world, but that won't change the fact that only a fraction of firearms seized in drug-related crimes in Mexico are ever traced. This is part of the big controversy over trying to nail down the exact percentage of how many guns in Mexico actually come from US sources. No one knows and no one will probably ever know because a LOT of seized guns are either untraceable for various reasons, or disappear into the hands of dirty cops or make their way into cartel hands before they can be traced. The new strategy says nothing about addressing the problem with the proper handling/securing of seized firearms and the corruption that results in so many firearms never being traced.
Next, the strategy for tackling money laundering never touches on the fundamental problem Mexico has with going after drug money: the inherent inadequacy of existing Mexican laws and the inability (or unwillingness) of the Mexican government to successfully prosecute those few that are eventually indicted for money laundering. I'm not saying it's bad that the US is providing training on investigative techniques and increasing information sharing. Those are both really good things that are needed in several areas. But what good is a top-notch investigation if weak or non-existent money-laundering laws don't allow for consistent and successful prosecutions? Obviously, this is an internal problem for the Mexican government, and the State Department can't include the changing of Mexican laws into its strategy. I just hope that encouragement in that regard is what they mean when talking about the vague notion of "capacity building."
My final thoughts are skeptical, as usual. It's nice to see and read about these high-profile meetings because it makes the general public feel like the Mexican and US governments are serious about tackling the problems arising out of the drug war. But these problems aren't new, and these sit-down sessions have occurred before. Is this a response to the murder of the three individuals who worked at the US Consulate in Cuidad Juárez? Maybe. If so, why was that the catalyst? US citizens have been killed in Mexico before because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and no such response occurred. Maybe it's because the FBI believes they were targeted by the Barrio Azteca gang for some reason. Still, Mexican drug trade-related activity, including murders and kidnappings, have been occurring on US soil for some time, and I'm disheartened that now is the time the State Department feels we need a new strategy. I'll be cynically waiting for some concrete measures to come out of yesterday's meeting.