U.S. Policy in Mexico
By Josh Kornberg
On February 28, The Nixon Center’s Mexico Program hosted Roberta S. Jacobson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Jacobson offered an assessment of the war against Mexico’s crime syndicates, describing the effect of the Merida Initiative and the challenges ahead. Dr. Robert Leiken, Director of the Center’s Mexico Programs, moderated the discussion.
Jacobson described the Merida Initiative’s four main elements: 1) fighting “transnational criminal syndicates;” 2) strengthening the rule of law and democratic institutions; 3) building a “21st century border” between the Mexico and the U.S. and between Mexico and Central America; and 4) growing Mexican civil society to rally citizens against the crime syndicates. She stressed that the U.S. and Mexico have worked to make Merida a “highly cooperative and shared program.” A recent example is a six-hundred million dollar increase in supplemental funding used to station more American law enforcement officers, customs officers, National Guard patrolmen, and security equipment along the border. The Obama administration has also overseen an increase in inspections along the border and focused more attention on impeding the flow of American weapons and funds into Mexico.
While noting that the crime syndicates have been fragmenting, Jacobson argued that this change has made them even more brutal. Most of the violence is among the syndicates, thus a change in level of violence in and of itself does not constitute a reliable indicator either of failure or success. Likewise, increased drug and asset seizures are unreliable “barometers of progress” since they could signify increased drug traffic as easily as government success. A better index would be higher rates of conviction for arrested syndicate members, which currently is under ten percent.
Jacobson commented that, recently, the U.S. has placed greater emphasis on institution building and community outreach as opposed to the provision of military and aviation equipment, allowing the U.S. to reduce spending without reducing engagement. She also suggested that the turmoil in Mexico has not had “as large an effect as some might think” on American investment in the country. While companies near the border are holding onto their investments to see how the situation plays out, she had not observed them closing shop. In addition, U.S. officials encourage Mexico to improve tax collection and argue that the country’s low tax rates discourage the necessary investment in law enforcement institutions. Official corruption also remains a serious problem, but not one the drafters of the Merida Initiative expected to be solved immediately.
Finally, when asked about “the Colombia analogy” in which Mexico is stalked by a criminal insurgency, Jacobson argued against its utility. “The Colombia example is important to understand when you’re talking about Mexico, but it seems to me that when I look at the two, there are as many differences as there are similarities.” The Mexican syndicates, unlike the Colombian insurgents, she explained, are not seeking state power but to defend or expand their business.
Click here to watch the event on our YouTube.
For Further Reading
Is the Colombia-Mexico Analogy Legitimate, Jen Socatch, The Nixon Center, December 1, 2010
Mexico’s Elections: Interpreting the Results, Jorge Kawas, The Nixon Center, July 14, 2010.
Is the Colombia-Mexico Analogy Legitamate, 1 December 2010
Mexico’s Elections: Interpreting the Results 14 July 2010