Saturday, March 27, 2010

On the Mérida Upgrade

Dora Beszterczey has a nice, long rundown of the new Mérida Initiative emerging from the diplomatic visit last week at Latin American Thought. Highlights:
The first and second components are not new, but there’s a change is the allocation of the $310 million requested budget for 2011 away from hardware (much of it will have been delivered by the end of this year, after all), toward institutional strengthening. $207 million of the $310 million budget will support Mexico’s judicial reforms and ‘good governance.’

Pilot projects implemented at the local-level that facilitate policy coordination and information sharing will also be expanded. These include DEA agents, ATF and FBI analysts working together and sharing information with the Mexican military and federal police in Ciudad Juarez and the U.S. Border Patrol working with the Mexican federal police in various localities.
I'd not heard the bolded stat before, and it certainly sounds like an improvement, although without seeing exactly what the programs are, one can't help but succumb to skepticism. But even if we give the governments the benefit of the doubt, in general I don't think we should be too optimistic about the possible impact of any bilateral agreement, however well designed. Overly hopeful proclamations about collaboration and information-sharing have characterized the security relationship for a generation (as Jorge Castañeda and Rubén Aguilar discuss in their book La Guerra Fallida, which is much better than Castañeda's articles supporting it, though still fundamentally wrong in my view), and have plagued the Mérida Initiative throughout its existence. Lots of vital ingredients are missing from an effective Mexican security policy, but I'm not sure why we think a) that American collaboration has been lacking until now, and b) that close American involvement is even a key element in a safer Mexico. After all, in most cases, the gangs terrorizing Mexico are homegrown and operate principally in Mexico. And unless the US is ready to consider legalization of marijuana and perhaps much stricter crackdowns on drug money in American institutions than anything we have ever seen, most everything that can improve the situation in Mexico --the speedy implementation of the 2008 judicial reform, greater attention to dirty money in the Mexican economy, the creation of a more competent, honest police agency-- is going to have to come from Mexicans. The US can support that, but to consider Mexican security through the prism of what the US is contributing like telling the story of World War II exclusively through the North African theater: it's an important part of the whole, but only a part, and not exactly a central part at that.

I should add that the above rant is not directed at Beszterczey's piece, which was quite helpful, but just the general tendency.

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