VIDEO & ARTICLE | Rethinking U.S.-Mexico Security Strategy

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“And so we have an initiative underway where the senior members of the Mexican Government will be coming up here on May the 18th to participate in an interagency process with us to see if we can get at transnational organized crime and begin to break these organized crime units up.“  Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson speech to Department of State employees, May 3, 2017. 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s maiden speech before U.S. Department of State employees on May 3rd forms the backdrop for an important meeting he will host with his Mexican counterpart today.  It will be an opportunity to redefine U.S.-Mexico security cooperation for the foreseeable future.  The question is whether that opportunity will be used to define new and effective ways to address the vexing problem of organized crime, corruption, and extreme violence, or whether it will simply result in a doubling down on what has already been tried and mostly failed.  In other words, will the new plan look a lot like the old plan with both sides simply trying harder?

Secretary Tillerson’s words are reassuring in part because they signal a willingness to work together with Mexico to address serious problems of insecurity.   It goes without saying that nothing is more important to the immediate safety and security of the United States than its relationship with its neighbor Mexico.  But the President’s own statements about Mexico, Mexicans, and their security forces during the campaign and after his election raised concerns that he might undermine decades of work to reduce tensions between the two countries and to address common security threats through a framework of “shared responsibility.”

But cooperation is not an end in itself, but a means to an end and what must be examined is whether the strategy being pursued is appropriate.  The Secretary’s suggestion that the focus of security cooperation should be “transnational organized crime and (to) begin to break these organized crime units (OCU) up,” raises significant questions.

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VIDEO & OP-ED | America & Mexico to Tackle Increasing Drug Violence

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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.

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La Impunidad Sigue: Violence against Journalists in Mexico

5/17/2017 The Expert Take, Mexico Institute

expert I (2)By Eric L. Olson and Gina Hinojosa

In yet another disturbing attack against freedom of expression in Mexico, one of the country’s most celebrated reporters, Javier Valdez Cárdenas, was shot dead this week in his hometown of Culiacán, Sinaloa. The fifth journalist to be murdered in Mexico this year, Valdez was pulled from his car and shot multiple times by an unidentified assailant around noon on May 15, according to national newspaper La Jornada, leaving the country to grieve the loss, again, of courageous journalist and rights defenders.

A talented and undeniably passionate reporter, Valdez won numerous international awards for his work. In 2011, the publication he co-founded, RioDoce, earned the prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Prize from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. In the same year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) awarded Valdez the 2011 International Press Freedom Award for his fearless coverage of drug trafficking, organized crime, and corruption. “In a country where widespread self-censorship is the consequence of violence by drug syndicates and criminal gangs, Valdez still covers sensitive issues,” wrote CPJ in its announcement of the award.

The words Valdez delivered upon receiving the CPJ award in New York are heart-wrenching. They underscore the horrors suffered by Mexicans living in areas ravaged by the country’s ongoing struggle against organized crime and the persistent challenges faced by journalists brave enough to report from the front lines of this struggle:

“Where I work, Culiacán, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, it is dangerous to be alive, and to do journalism is to walk on an invisible line drawn by the bad guys–who are in drug trafficking and in the government–in a field strewn with explosives. This is what most of the country is living through. One must protect oneself from everything and everyone, and there do not seem to be options or salvation, and often there is no one to turn to.”

While well aware of the risks, Valdez dedicated his life to addressing these pressing issues. In 2003, he co-founded the Sinaloa-based crime and corruption-focused publication RioDoce. At the time of the publication’s founding, the state government was believed to control most of Sinaloa’s media, and Valdez saw the need to provide more honest coverage of organized crime’s toll on Mexican society and governance.

In 2011, Valdez spoke at the Wilson Center about his work at a Mexico Institute event in the midst of Mexico’s rising homicide rates, discussing the risks faced by journalists reporting on organized crime. Widely considered the height of Mexico’s drug war, 2011 was the country’s most violent year on record, with nearly 23,000 homicides documented nationwide by the Mexican National Security System (SNSP). When asked by the Mexico Institute’s Eric L. Olson about why he continued reporting on such dangerous topics in such a hostile context, Valdez said, “The other option is to stay quiet and to turn a blind eye…I believe everyone must assume the responsibility given to them.”

The broader picture

Through his activism and dedicated reporting, Valdez called attention to Mexico’s incessant struggle to put an end to violence against journalists. Press freedom watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) consistently ranks Mexico the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere for the media, and in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, RSF declared Mexico the third deadliest country in the world for the press, behind only Syria and Afghanistan. According to international human rights organization Article 19, 105 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, and in 2016 alone, the organization documented 426 total acts of aggression against the press, including 11 homicides. The most common types of attacks recorded by Article 19 last year included physical assault, intimidation, and threats.

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Mexico’s lost generation of young girls robbed of innocence and education

5/2/2017 The Guardian

girlHundreds of thousands of young girls across Mexico are being driven into relationships and marriages with older men, denying them a childhood and an education, new research reveals.

Of the 320,000-plus Mexican girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who are cohabiting, nearly 70% are with a partner who is at least 11 years their senior, according to a report commissioned by the Ford Foundation.

The data represents part of a wider trend across Latin America, the only region in the world where child marriage is increasing rather than in decline.

Researchers found that 83% of married girls had left school, with the number rising to 92% among those living informally with a man. In contrast, just 15% of Mexican girls not in such relationships dropped out of school.

The findings, due to be published next month by a Mexico City-based research group, also show that 25,000 girls aged between 12 and 14 are living in “early unions”.

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US to Fund Mexico Opium Eradication to Hit Heroin Crisis at Home: Report

4/24/2017 InSight Crime

opium_poppy_field_-_mexicoThe United States has reportedly offered to help fund Mexico’s eradication of opium poppy, raising questions about the efficacy of the supply-focused approach to drug control that both countries have adopted.

If the United States and Mexico can reach an agreement on how the major heroin-producing nation would do more and better eradication in the future, then the United States would be prepared to help fund it, US Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William Brownfield said in recent comments to Reuters.

“That is on the table, but I don’t want you to conclude that it’s a done deal, because we still have to work through the details,” added Brownfield, without putting a figure on how much the United States may be willing to provide Mexico.

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Mexico Criminal Groups Use Violence to Control Meat Industry: Report

4/21/2017 InSight Crime

meat2Criminal groups are coercing butchers at a food market in western Mexico to buy meat from them at elevated prices and are killing those who do not comply, a new report finds, illustrating one of the many ways predatory crime hinders economic activity in Latin America.

Criminal groups supply most of the 60,000 kilos of meat sold every week at a market in the city of Chilpancingo, Guerrero, according to a report by El Universal. The criminal groups buy the meat at 50 Mexican pesos per kilogram and sell it to the market’s butchers for 60 pesos per kilogram, for earnings of 600,000 pesos (roughly $32,000) each week.

One of the butchers told El Universal that competitors offer lower prices than the criminal groups, but that buying from a competitor carries the risk of violent reprisals. Four butchers were killed in the past year alone, according to El Universal. Two vendors who worked at the market were also killed last year.

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After the Storm in U.S.-Mexico Relations

3/31/2017 The Wilson Quarterly

Articles by Duncan Wood, Christopher Wilson, Andrew Selee, Eric L. Olson, Earl Anthony Wayne & Arturo Sarukhan

The relationship between Mexico and the United States is facing its most severe test in decades. Although a new tone and new ideas are needed, the economic, political, and security fundamentals matter more than ever.

Browse the full Winter 2017 issue of Wilson Quarterly here…

Leveraging the U.S.-Mexico Relationship to Strengthen Our Economies, by Christopher Wilson

A New Migration Agenda Between the United States and Mexico, by Andrew Selee

The Merida Initiative and Shared Responsibility in U.S.-Mexico Security Relations, by Eric L. Olson

U.S.-Mexico Energy and Climate Collaboration, by Duncan Wood

Toward a North American Foreign Policy Footprint, by Earl Anthony Wayne & Arturo Sarukhan