Addressing the security and public health challenges posed by the illegal drug trade requires strong U.S.-Mexico cooperation. Of the more than 72,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States in 2017, more than forty percent involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl and more than twenty percent involved heroin. Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) exacerbate the U.S. opioid epidemic by trafficking heroin from Mexico, sometimes laced with fentanyl from China, into the United States. TCOs also traffic methamphetamine from Mexico and cocaine from Colombia. TCOs increasingly profit from diverse criminal activity including fuel theft, human smuggling, extortion, and kidnapping. Transnational crime undermines border security, disrupts markets, corrupts institutions, and poses grave threats to national security and our partners in the region. To confront these threats, the United States and Mexico work together to dismantle the business model of TCOs and reduce the supply of illicit opioids and other drugs to the United States.
The Merida Initiative
The Merida Initiative has transformed the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship and is a pillar of our broader cooperation. In 2007, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and former U.S. President George W. Bush announced the initiative, named for the historic Mexican city where the agreement was signed, to address the shared responsibility for the impact of the drug trade on the United States and related violence in Mexico. Since then, Merida Initiative projects have bolstered Mexico’s efforts to improve security, enhance criminal prosecutions and rule of law, build public confidence in the justice sector, improve border security and reduce irregular migration, and promote greater respect for human rights. By focusing on building capacity across Mexico’s criminal justice process, the Merida Initiative supports a comprehensive and sustainable approach to improve U.S. and Mexican security in the long term.
In support of the President’s Executive Order 13773 on Transnational Criminal Organizations and following two Cabinet-level bilateral strategic dialogues in 2017, the U.S. and Mexican governments agreed to leverage Merida Initiative programs to disrupt the TCO business model by tackling drug production; cross-border movement of drugs, cash, and weapons; drug markets; and illicit revenue. The State Department and USAID fund these efforts and work closely with other U.S. government partners that provide technical expertise, including the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Treasury, and Defense. The Merida Initiative complements Mexico’s significant investment in security.
Targeting Drug Production and Distribution: The United States and Mexico work together to disrupt the production and trafficking of heroin, fentanyl, and other drugs that pose an increasingly deadly threat to Americans. To reduce drug production, Merida Initiative programs build Mexico’s capacity to analyze and target illicit opium poppy fields to more effectively eradicate the crops used to supply heroin, and train and equip Mexican counterparts to identify, seize, and dismantle clandestine laboratories that make synthetic drugs. To prevent the diversion of industrial chemicals to make illicit drugs, Merida programs enhance Mexican capacity to electronically track chemical imports and exports and build the Mexican Navy’s ability to interdict illicit goods and control ports. These efforts, along with enhanced U.S.-Mexico law enforcement information sharing and partnerships, are critical tools to deter the entry of illicit drugs into the United States.
Enhancing Border Security: Merida Initiative programs enhance our shared border security by disrupting the movement of weapons, smuggled cash, and drugs and improving cross-border coordination against transnational crime. Activities improve Mexico’s capacity to control irregular migration; secure land, air, and sea ports of entry; and conduct coordinated law enforcement operations against TCOs.
Strengthening Rule of Law and the Criminal Justice System: Merida Initiative programs support Mexico’s efforts to reduce impunity for TCOs by building capacity, efficiency, and transparency in the justice sector. Merida supports Mexico’s efforts to promote accountability, professionalism, integrity, and adherence to due process among the country’s 350,000 federal, state, and municipal law enforcement officials. Merida programs train investigators, prosecutors, and judges to advance effective prosecutions under Mexico’s accusatory justice system. From preventative police to prison officials, Merida programs support Mexican federal and state agencies in bringing institutions and personnel up to international professional standards, which increases transparency while reducing opportunities for corruption. Merida programs enable greater cooperation among U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges to improve efforts to deny TCOs the ability to generate and use illicit profits.
Since its inception, the Merida Initiative has strengthened bilateral partnerships across a broad range of Mexican and U.S. law enforcement agencies, judicial officials, and civil society leaders. Thanks to Merida, Mexico has increased drug seizures, put more criminals behind bars, and worked with U.S. officials to stem the flow of illicit drugs across the border in order to keep Americans safe. Merida has adapted to emerging threats, advanced across multiple administrations in both countries, and provides a model for sustained security cooperation, including with countries across the hemisphere.