Secretary of State Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary Kelly meet their Mexican counterparts on May 18 to discuss the fight against organized crime and drug smuggling. This is a positive sign in a relationship that has been shaken by U.S. criticisms this year. Both countries need good—and better—cooperation against drugs and cartels. The United States is suffering an epidemic of opioid overdoses fueled by the abuse of prescription drugs and heroin and synthetic opioids smuggled from Mexico. Mexico is suffering a surge in homicides fueled in part by the criminal gangs that feed U.S. drug demand and reap billions of dollars in profits.
Mexico and the United States have improved cooperation. However, that progress has not been sufficient to stem the smuggling of deadly drugs or the drug-related violence in Mexico. More progress will require higher levels of trust, commitment and investment by the two governments, and creative thinking to find better ways to address illegal drug use and flows.
Launching a reinvigorated effort against international criminal groups will also depend on the state of U.S.-Mexico relations and, specifically, if the governments find a way to work for mutually acceptable outcomes on two other important topics: trade (NAFTA) and migration. It is hard to imagine that the two governments can forge the confidence needed to reach a new level of collaboration against criminal networks without bilateral relations moving beyond the recent high-profile tensions. Mexican domestic politics, for one, won’t allow it.