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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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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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

 

[Video] Charting a New Course Part 3: U.S.-Mexico Security Relations

Mexico Institute Senior Advisor, Eric Olson is the guest for part three of the series, “Charting a New Course.” In this episode we focus on the policy of shared responsibility between the U.S. and Mexico regarding security relations. How has the Merida Initiative evolved and does it still provide the appropriate framework for security cooperation? That question and others provides the focus for this edition of Wilson Center NOW.

Watch the video…

Op-ed: Defining Border Security

Border fenceBy Eric Olson and Christopher Wilson, Politico, 2/10/2013

The recent announcements by President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of senators outlining broad principles for immigration reform are very welcome. While the specifics of any reform will be hotly debated, a major advance has been made with the emergence of a broad political consensus, from left to right, that the current system is broken and in need of major repair.

It would be troubling, then, if this golden opportunity to fix a broken system falls victim to the very same trap that has ensnared other reform efforts. By conditioning reforms on achieving a poorly defined and much misunderstood notion of “securing the border,” the whole effort is at risk of unraveling.

Mexican Court Orders Release of Frenchwoman

prisonThe Wall Street Journal, 1/23/2013

Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday freed a Frenchwoman who had been found guilty of kidnapping and jailed since 2005, arguing that her case was plagued by police abuse, including the staging of her arrest for broadcast on live television.

“The good news is that there is a reform process on the way,” said Eric Olson, Associate Director of the Latin American Program at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars “The Supreme Court is a much more independent actor, and is willing to stand up for basic procedures and guarantees. But there is much more to be done.”

Mr. Olson said the Cassez case highlights the dilemma that all countries face, including the U.S., when they face a violent threat, be it kidnapping or terrorism. “There is an enormous temptation when have such a threat to throw out the rule of law,” he said. “Mexico and any country are better off in the long run strengthening the rule of law.”

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POLICY REPORT: New Ideas for a New Era: Policy Options for the Next Stage in U.S.-Mexico Relations

Coinciding U.S. and Mexican presidential elections offer a natural opportunity to look at the evolving context of bilateral relations and look forward for ways to strengthen ties. The Mexico Institute is pleased to launch an electronic version of its new policy report, “New Ideas for a New Era: Policy Options for the Next Stage in U.S.-Mexico Relations,” by Christopher E. Wilson, Eric L. Olson, Miguel R. Salazar, Andrew Selee, and Duncan Wood. The policy report highlights five key issues with the potential to strengthen U.S.-Mexico relations. A printed version of this report will be available shortly.