Mexico remains a major transit country for cocaine and heroin and a source country for heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine destined for the United States. Narcotics trafficking and related violence in Mexico continue to pose significant problems to citizen security and economic development.
According to the most recently available statistics, published by Mexico’s statistics agency (INEGI) in September 2015, reported homicides decreased by nearly 15 percent and kidnappings decreased by 22 percent from 2013 to 2014. However, an estimated 93 percent of all crimes went either unreported or uninvestigated in 2014.
Mexico actively combats drug trafficking organizations and U.S.-Mexico cooperation in this area is substantial. The Merida Initiative is a major component of these efforts; since 2008, nearly $1.5 billion in training, equipment, and technical assistance has been delivered to help strengthen Mexico’s judicial and security institutions. U.S. and Mexican law enforcement counterparts cooperate on investigations and other criminal justice issues related to transnational criminal organizations. Such cooperation boosted efforts to capture leaders of these groups. These successes, however, have resulted in smaller, fractured groups that violently compete for power, terrain, and market share.
Mexican consumption of illicit drugs is lower than U.S. levels, although insufficient data exists to determine current consumption trends.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
Mexico continues to strengthen federal and state institutional capacity to confront organized crime. Since 2006, the Government of Mexico restructured and tripled the size of its Federal Police. Many states are reforming their police forces to reduce corruption, including establishing internal affairs units and implementing a single command structure, known as “mando único.”
Mexico’s 2016 budget for public security and national security increased by 3.6 percent to $15.4 billion. 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.
Impunity levels in Mexico remain high and Mexico’s transition to an accusatorial criminal justice system remains uneven ahead of the country’s June 2016 constitutional deadline for implementation. Six states are now fully operating under the new criminal justice system. Other states have thus far adopted partial accusatorial systems, utilizing the new system in certain municipalities or for certain types of crimes. States are also using hybrid systems, trying cases grandfathered under the old inquisitorial system and new cases under the accusatorial system. The Mexican government seeks to increase transparency and decrease corruption in criminal cases through the adoption of the accusatory system. Early results from states implementing the reforms are encouraging. However, the learning curve moving forward will be steep as the Mexican public and justice operators adjust to it and a new criminal procedure code.
Multilaterally, Mexico participates in 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 is a regional observer in the Central American Integration System and collaborates with Central American countries to improve regional security.
Mexico participates 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 and refine protocols for maritime interdictions. In addition, Mexico hosted a trilateral police chief meeting with Canada and the United States in March 2015.
The current U.S.-Mexico extradition treaty has been in force since 1980, and Mexico remains a strong extradition partners. A bilateral mutual legal assistance treaty in force since 1991 fosters a broad range of cooperation in criminal matters. Collaboration between the United States and Mexico has been promising since new Attorney General Arely Gomez was appointed in March.
2. Supply Reduction
Mexico cooperates with the United States on supply reduction. Maritime and land corridors through Central America and Mexico continue to be 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 around the world.
Mexico is a major producer of heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine destined for the United States. Full calendar year 2015 figures were not available at the time of this report. The Government of Mexico reported eradicating 21,425 hectares (ha) of opium poppy in 2014, a significant increase from the 14,419 ha eradicated in 2013. The Government of Mexico also reported eradicating 5,679 ha of cannabis in 2014, a slight increase over the 5,096 ha eradicated in 2013.
The United State estimates that opium poppy cultivation increased 59 percent in 2014, to 17,000 ha from 11,000 ha in 2013, which could potentially produce 42 metric tons (MT) of pure heroin, compared with 26 MT in 2013. Also, in 2014, the United States estimated that Mexico cannabis cultivation decreased 15 percent to 11,000 ha compared with 13,000 ha in 2014.
The Office of the Attorney General reported Mexico seized 929.4 MT of marijuana in 2014, a decrease of 3.0 percent from 2013. Mexico seized 3.6 MT of cocaine, a 41.5 percent decrease, and 1.4 MT of opium gum in 2014, an increase of over 400 percent. U.S. law enforcement seizures of heroin along the U.S.-Mexico border have also increased significantly over the past several years.
With respect to synthetic drugs, Mexican seizures of methamphetamine, which totaled 19.8 MT in 2014, increased 35.9 percent when compared to 2013. Seizures of clandestine drug labs rose slightly. The Mexican government seized 143 labs in 2014, an 11.7 percent increase compared to 2013. Mexican officials participate in regular meetings with U.S. experts to identify and target the latest trends in synthetic drug production.
3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment
Official statistics indicate illegal drug use in Mexico is lower than U.S. levels. According to the most recent official study conducted in 2011, 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. The 2011 national survey does not include a category for new or designer drugs, known as new psychoactive substances. Regionally, northern Mexico is the area with highest prevalence of illegal drug use (2.3 percent versus 1.5 percent nationally). Mexico plans to conduct a new national survey in 2016.
The National Commission against Addictions (CONADIC) coordinates and implements national drug policy. The Secretariat of Government has 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 (OAS), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Funding for public information initiatives, prevention, and treatment largely comes from the federal budget. In 2015, the budget for demand and treatment-related initiatives increased by 3.4 percent ($83.7 million), though this increase was mitigated by currency depreciation affecting the Mexican peso.
Mexico has made significant efforts to establish drug treatment courts (DTCs) throughout the country. The first DTC was established in Guadalupe, Nuevo León in 2009. Currently, there are 15 DTCs operating in the country, two of which are juvenile courts. The United States continues to fund training and technical assistance by the Inter-American Drug Control Policy Commission of the OAS to establish DTCs in Mexico.
The United States supports the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission in their technical support to the government’s drug treatment and prevention systems, including training and support to treatment facilities.
Additionally, the Government of Mexico is promoting the establishment of anti-drug coalitions on the model developed by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA). CADCA supports the formation and/or enhancement of effective drug-free community coalition programs, which assist civil society organizations in reducing drug use. There are now 22 coalitions in Mexico, implemented through a U.S.-funded grant.
CONADIC began a drug counselor certification program in 2015 with U.S. Government support. Previously, drug counselors were not required to be certified, often resulting in inadequate treatment for drug users. Training, evaluation, and certification will continue through 2016, resulting in the certification of roughly 1,500 drug counselors.
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 anticorruption standards are improving, corruption continues to impede Mexican counternarcotics efforts. The Mexican government has taken 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.
In February 2015, President Peña Nieto announced an eight-point anti-corruption plan to enhance the government’s commitment to eliminating corruption and increasing transparency. He appointed Virgilio Andrade as the head of the revived Secretariat of Public Administration, which will lead the government’s anti-corruption efforts. In April, the Mexican Congress passed legislation to create a new anti-corruption system; however, implementing legislation has not yet been passed.
Mexican law enforcement officials remain poorly compensated, 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 some success identifying corrupt individuals, prompting the removal of officers, and the rejection of police recruits. The Mexican government and some state governors have conducted large-scale dismissals of corrupt police, but work remains to ensure only fully vetted officials remain in the ranks. 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 $1.4 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. Merida trained joint intelligence task forces have led to more efficient and effective intelligence operations, canine unit and non-intrusive inspection programs have resulted in increased interdictions of illicit funds and narcotics, and prison accreditation assistance has resulted in decreased violent prison deaths and outbreaks of violence. Merida has initiated a nation-wide training program to help prepare police for their changing roles in the new justice system and continues to advance a full spectrum of police professionalization activities, including the application of international standards regarding training and accreditation, the implementation of minimum employment standards throughout the career of a police officer, basic policing training, instructor development, continuing education opportunities, and leadership training.
Mexico continues its efforts to disrupt or dismantle transnational criminal organizations, reform its judiciary and prisons, improve its police, and address money laundering. These efforts have strengthened 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. Cultivation also remains a challenge, with data trends suggesting illicit opium poppy cultivation is increasing and will continue to increase, especially without the presence of a holistic alternative development program. With respect to drug demand, the limited official statistics indicate that illegal drug use among Mexicans remains low and stable.
Under the Peña Nieto administration’s security strategy, future bilateral efforts will emphasize strengthening Mexican institutions, building capacity for all criminal justice actors to carry out their new roles under an accusatorial justice system; professionalizing police, investigators, intelligence analysts, and forensic specialists; and interdicting illicit goods, all with the goal of achieving security goals shared by both nations. 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.