COMMENT: The Merida Plan has clearly taken up the lead for a North American ‘security perimeter’, whereas the “North American Union” terminology has been put on the back burner due to its increased publicity, politicization and outcry over its apparent intent. Notice how, once again, the CFR is leading the way for regional integration– first it was CFR member Robert Pastor’s plan for “Building a North American Community,” then it was former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, co-chair of the Council of Foreign Relations Task Force on U.S. immigration policy. Now, it’s a beefed-up expansion through the Merida Plan.

Dora Beszterczey
Americas Quarterly
March 29, 2010

Dora Beszterczey is a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Responding to a growing sense that the military-led fight against drug trafficking organizations has failed to curb violence across our southern border, the United States and Mexico formally announced a shift in their counter-narcotics strategy last week. The “new stage” in bilateral cooperation will aim to strengthen civilian law enforcement institutions and rebuild communities crippled by poverty and crime.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico City last Tuesday with a delegation that included the top U.S. military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and top officials from the DEA, Justice Department, border security, and other agencies. Their visit marked the second high-level consultation meeting under the auspices of the Merida Initiative. (The meeting had been planned for months, but it took on greater urgency in the aftermath of the killing of three people—including two U.S. citizens—with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.)

The growing list of allegations against the army—long Mexico’s most trusted institution—is undermining its credibility, and its operational success. Troops are fielding tips, filtering intelligence, searching safe houses and detaining and interrogating suspects—tasks the military was never trained for. As the wars between drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), their allied gangs, and the army claim innocent lives, silence reporters, close businesses, and propel families north of the border, Mexican public opinion is galvanizing to demand an alternative strategy and many want the army out of the picture. According to a poll published last week, 59 percent of Mexicans believe the DTOs are winning the drug war. Only 21 percent believe the government is.

1) Disrupting the capacity of DTOs

2) Reforming and enhancing the capacity of Mexico’s security and justice institutions

3) Creating a twenty-first century border that advances commerce and security

4) Building strong, resilient communities that tackle the drivers of violence and defy the influence of the DTOs

Without an eye to improving the competitiveness of border states by integrating the two nations’ economies through modernized infrastructure, the U.S.-dependent Mexican economy will struggle to recover.

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