Since the beginning of the six-year term, the change in security coordinates has been one of the priorities of the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the bilateral relationship with the United States. For 14 years the so-called Merida Initiative has been in force, a plan agreed upon in 2018 between the government of Felipe Calderón and George W. Bush, focused on police work, with delivery of US military equipment and training of border authorities. López Obrador’s roadmap was to end Mérida and dedicate the old resources – almost 3,000 million dollars during the first decade – for a new plan more based on prevention and with more weight on the Mexican agenda. The result is the Bicentennial Understanding, formally announced this week after a joint meeting of both delegations led by the Mexican Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, and the US Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar.
The new framework will, above all, mean a return to normality in the relationship between the two countries on security matters. During the last two years, López Obrador’s instruction to all federal government agencies had been to put a stop to the programs financed by the Merida Initiative. A blockade that led to the financing of the United States being channeled directly to states and municipalities. Sources familiar with the negotiations acknowledge that “it has been an anomalous situation that also generated serious problems in auditing that money. In the US they are very happy to return to the federal level ”.
“Today is the birth certificate and start of operations of a new stage between Mexico and the United States,” Ebrard announced during the meeting of the so-called High Level Security Group. The starting gun did not have at the moment any figure on the joint financing of the plan. The staging was limited to communicating five working subgroups: violence reduction, cross-border crimes, persecution of criminal networks, Defense and Navy and a binational cooperation committee as a compass for administrative work between the two States.
The design of the operation is one of the first big differences with the previous plan. Mérida was organized by thematic work blocks – weapons, migrants, money laundering – while now the operational architecture is based on priorities. That is, there will be cross-cutting themes that fall into several of the groups. The fight against arms trafficking, one of Mexico’s historical demands on its northern neighbor, is one of the issues that has gained weight and has a transversal presence. A handful of actions are now being added to the transfer of technology: identification of international customs where there is the greatest volume of traffic, simultaneous police operations on both sides of the border, and a new national weapons registry.
Mexico has redoubled its bet against arms trafficking in recent years. In addition to the insistence of the Foreign Ministry in each of the bilateral meetings, or the recent mention of the issue by López Obrador in his speech at the UN, the government sued 11 US companies in August for facilitating illegal trafficking. The change in inertia was also seen during this week’s meeting.
Ambassador Salazar expressly recognized that: “it is a responsibility of the two nations, but we recognize that these weapons are coming from the United States.” More than 200,000 firearms, according to official estimates, enter Mexico illegally each year. The emphasis on cyber crimes, with the creation of a specific registry, and attention to money laundering, with much more weight from the strongest arm against corruption, the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), are other Mexican bets in the new frame.
The now finalized Plan Mérida, focused on police work, came into force a few months after the start of the so-called war on drugs. The departure of the military to patrol the streets decreed by the Calderón government left a balance of at least 121,000 homicides with firearms and almost 40,000 disappeared. López Obrador intends to print a shift towards prevention and work with communities. “A lot of emphasis has been placed on the police part of Mérida, but it also offered many programs in prevention and justice. For example, all the advice of the new justice system or the social justice chambers ”, points out Eunice Rendón, an expert in security.
The transition, the experts consulted warn, will not be sudden. There are Mérida programs that will still have a tour. For example, even within the framework of this Initiative, a US company has just renewed a license for five years to finance Mexican civil society projects in the field of security. The area of financing and transparency are, however, the biggest unknowns right now among analysts. Another of the recent agreements between the two countries, the Stay in Mexico program (Remain in Mexico) for which asylum seekers in the United States must wait on the Mexican side of the border, is also currently suffering from a shortage of resources. And at the national level, experts also claim that key programs such as the National System for the Prevention of Addictions are also having financing problems.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.