Mexico remains a major transit and source country for illicit drugs destined for the United States, and a center for money laundering. Narcotics trafficking and related violence in Mexico continue to pose significant problems. Government of Mexico statistics indicate that from 2012 to 2013, reported homicides decreased by approximately nine percent. Reported kidnapping and extortion rose sharply, however, by about 20.5 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively.
Mexico aggressively combats drug trafficking, and U.S.-Mexico cooperation in this area is robust. The bilateral Merida Initiative is a major component of these efforts; since 2008 approximately $1.2 billion in training, equipment, and technical assistance has been delivered to help transform Mexico’s judicial and security institutions. Concurrently, U.S. and Mexican law enforcement counterparts have cooperated on investigations and other criminal justice issues regarding transnational criminal organizations. Such cooperation has boosted efforts to bring the leaders of transnational criminal organizations to justice. That success, however, has also resulted in smaller, fractured groups that have violently attempted to consolidate their power.
Mexican consumption of illicit drugs is lower than U.S. levels, although insufficient data exists to determine longer-term consumption trends.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
Mexico has continued to strengthen its institutional capacity to confront organized crime. Since 2006, the Government of Mexico has restructured and tripled the size of its Federal Police, and it plans to add an additional 5,000 officers as a special “gendarme” unit by mid-2014. State and local law enforcement agencies also continue to grow in size, but in many cases remain significantly understaffed. Many states are also rebuilding their police forces to reduce corruption.
The Mexican customs service has expanded its traditional focus on revenue collection to include enforcement of contraband and intellectual property laws. The Office of the Attorney General (PGR) has restructured key divisions, dismissed employees who failed internal vetting, and continued efforts to increase prosecution rates.
Mexico’s 2014 budget for all security-related functions is approximately $10.4 billion, an increase of 14.3 percent from 2013. Funding is used to combat organized crime, expand crime prevention programs, improve interagency coordination, consolidate police forces, support justice reforms, and encourage citizen participation in crime control.
Mexico’s transition to an oral, adversarial criminal justice system remains uneven, although a number of state jurisdictions have made progress. Twenty-five of Mexico’s 31 states, as well as its Federal District, have adopted new criminal procedure codes, in compliance with a 2008 federal constitutional reform requiring such legislation by 2016. Nonetheless, Chihuahua, Mexico State, Morelos, and Yucatán are the only states that have fully implemented required reforms. Federal legislation is pending that would create a unified criminal procedure code applicable to both federal and state governments.
In October, a new anti-money laundering law took full effect, imposing harsher sanctions and new reporting requirements, and creating a specialized PGR unit for investigations and prosecutions. The law also authorizes prison terms of up to 10 years and restricts the amount of U.S. currency that Mexican banks may receive.
The current U.S.-Mexico bilateral extradition treaty has been in force since 1980. A 2001 protocol to the treaty allows either party to temporarily surrender to the other party a fugitive who has already been convicted and sentenced so that the fugitive can face prosecution on an already-granted extradition request. A bilateral mutual legal assistance treaty in force since 1991 fosters a broad range of cooperation in criminal matters.
Multilaterally, Mexico is a party to the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, and subscribes to the 1996 Anti-Drug Strategy in the Hemisphere and the 1990 Declaration and Program of Action of Ixtapa. Likewise, Mexico plays a leading role both as a regional observer in the Central American Integration System and as a collaborator with Central American countries to improve regional security. It participates in U.S.-sponsored Multilateral Maritime Counterdrug Summits, which provide the Mexican Navy with the opportunity to improve anti-drug trafficking strategies in cooperation with other countries in the region.
In June, Mexico attended the 30th Annual International Drug Enforcement Conference, a forum for senior law enforcement officials from more than 100 countries. Mexico also continues to participate with Canada and the United States in the North American Maritime Security Initiative, in which naval authorities meet regularly to share information, improve response to transnational threats, and develop protocols for maritime interdictions.
2. Supply Reduction
Mexico cooperates closely with the United States on supply reduction. Maritime and land corridors through Central America and Mexico are the most significant transit routes for cocaine from South America bound for the United States. While the United States remains the primary destination for illicit drugs trafficked via Mexico, trafficking routes through Mexico are diversifying to accommodate growing markets in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.
The PGR states that Mexico seized 598.2 metric tons (MT) of marijuana and 253.5 kilograms (kg) of opium gum from December 2012 through July 2013, representing decreases of 18.2 and 82.7 percent, respectively, when compared to the same time period a year prior. Cannabis and opium poppy are primarily grown in rural areas of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, and Guerrero, with small crops in Sonora, Nayarit, Michoacán, and Oaxaca.
In contrast, the PGR reported increased heroin and cocaine interdiction, with 240.5 kg of heroin and 3.7 MT of cocaine seized from December 2012 through July 2013. This constitutes an increase of 37.5 and 77.2 percent, respectively, when compared to seizures from December 2011 through July 2012. Nevertheless, cocaine interdiction poses a challenge despite the apparent increase in seizures. About 84 percent of U.S.-bound cocaine transited Mexico and Central America during the first nine months of 2013, and U.S. law enforcement sources estimate that less than two percent of cocaine assessed to be transiting Mexico.
With respect to synthetic drugs, Mexican interdiction of methamphetamine—which totaled 7.3 MT between December 2012 and July 2013—fell 79.3 percent when compared to the same time period a year before. Seizures of clandestine drug labs fell markedly. The Mexican government seized 128 labs in 2013, a 52.6 percent decrease compared with 2012.
In contrast, the PGR reported an increase in seizures of pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical, indicating that Mexican authorities seized 7.2 MT of the substance between December 2012 and July 2013—approximately 90 times the amount seized during the same time period the year before.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
Official statistics indicate that illegal drug use in Mexico is lower than U.S. levels, although inconsistent survey methodologies among national consumption surveys prevent tracking long-term trends. According to the most recent official nationwide study, prevalence of illegal drug use showed a statistically insignificant increase from 1.4 percent in 2008 to 1.5 percent in 2011. Marijuana remains the most commonly used illegal drug, and while overall prevalence rates stayed relatively stable, use among men showed a statistically significant increase from 1.7 percent to 2.2 percent during the same timeframe. Cocaine use showed a statistically insignificant increase from 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent. The average age of first use has remained essentially stable, rising from 18.7 to 18.8 years. Regionally, northern Mexico is the area with highest prevalence of illegal drug use (2.3 percent versus 1.5 percent nationally). Nevertheless, this study surveyed only individuals living in “households” and excluded groups such as the homeless and prisoners, suggesting that prevalence rates may be higher than reported.
The Mexican government recently announced the development of the National Program against Addictions, which emphasizes: (1) programs addressing the root causes of substance abuse; (2) improved coordination with state and municipal governments; (3) scientific research; and (4) therapeutic justice programs for certain drug-addicted criminals. This strategy builds upon existing programs, including:
- 400 primary care addiction centers;
- state and federal drug observatories;
- a federally-funded non-governmental organization operating 99 out-patient prevention and treatment services, two heroin treatment units, and 12 in-patient facilities;
- private anti-drug television campaigns targeted at parents and youth; and
- over 2,000 in-patient care facilities ranging from state-of-the-art clinics to single-room meeting halls for support groups.
While no systematic studies exist about these programs’ impact, the relatively low Mexican prevalence rates suggest at least partial effectiveness.
Funding for addiction-related initiatives largely comes from the federal budget. In 2013, the amount allocated to addictions was approximately $95.8 million, about a three percent decrease from 2012.
Mexico’s National Commission Against Addictions coordinates and implements national drug policy. The Secretariat of Government has also included demand reduction as a component of its National Program on Crime and Violence Prevention. The National Institute of Psychiatry leads addiction research. These offices liaise with the United States, the Organization of American States, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. CONADIC and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy are scheduled to hold a conference on demand reduction in mid-2014.
As a matter of government policy, the Government of Mexico does not encourage or facilitate illicit drug production or distribution, nor is it involved in laundering the proceeds of the sale of illicit drugs. Although federal anti-corruption standards are improving, corruption continues to impede Mexican counternarcotics efforts. The Mexican government has taken significant steps to reduce corruption in law enforcement and has designated the National System for Public Security as the agency responsible for overseeing stronger vetting for law enforcement personnel, including increased use of polygraph exams, toxicological tests, and background investigations.
The Mexican government has reorganized the Federal Police’s Internal Affairs Department so that its principal reports directly to the head of the National Security Commission, theoretically allowing the department to investigate anyone within the Federal Police, regardless of rank. Ninety-four federal police officers were arrested on corruption charges between December 1, 2012 and October 8, 2013.
At the state and municipal level, law enforcement officials remain under-resourced, inadequately trained, and vulnerable to corruption. Each state and the Federal District have established centers responsible for vetting law enforcement officers. Progress has been uneven, but the centers have had success identifying corrupt individuals, prompting the removal of officers and the rejection of some police recruits. The Mexican government and some state governors have conducted large-scale dismissals of police where corruption was endemic. Some Mexican law enforcement entities have also established, restructured, or augmented their internal affairs offices.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
U.S. assistance aims to help Mexico develop more effective and transparent security and rule of law institutions, and to foster cooperation with international partners to reduce threats from transnational and domestic crime, improve border security, and protect human rights.
Since 2008 the United States has delivered approximately $1.2 billion in assistance through the Merida Initiative. A government-wide effort involving numerous U.S. agencies, Merida has contributed to better law enforcement training, criminal justice reforms, crime prevention efforts, programs for at-risk youth, human rights initiatives, drug demand reduction projects, alternatives to incarceration, and border security programs. Mexico invests more than 10 dollars for every dollar of Merida Initiative money spent.
Mexico extradited 54 people to the United States in 2013. This represents a 53 percent decline from the 115 individuals extradited in 2012.
Mexico has continued efforts to disrupt or dismantle transnational criminal organizations, reform its judiciary and prisons, improve its police, and address money laundering. These initiatives have fortified Mexico’s public institutions while helping to weaken organized crime. Available supply reduction data indicate that interdiction remains a major challenge for Mexico. Only a small portion of the cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin originating in or transiting Mexico is interdicted inside the country. With respect to drug demand, official statistics indicate that illegal drug use among Mexicans has essentially stabilized.
Under the Peña Nieto administration’s security strategy, future bilateral efforts will emphasize strengthening Mexican institutions, continued expansion of programs to states and municipalities, and further progress toward achieving the goals shared by both nations. The focus of U.S.-Mexico cooperation has shifted from providing large-scale equipment to engaging in training and capacity building, and from focusing on federal institutions to building state and municipal capabilities. Justice sector, drug demand reduction, and culture of lawfulness initiatives will accordingly play a larger role. The United States will also continue programs to curb its own domestic drug demand and inhibit the illegal flow of arms and cash into Mexico, and will give more attention to drug interdiction inside Mexico.
In sum, the U.S.-Mexico relationship remains strong. Both countries are committed to working together to combat transnational organized crime, strengthen Mexican institutions, and support the rule of law.