In December 2008, Mexico and the United States signed the first Letter of Agreement (LOA) for the Merida Initiative, opening a chapter of historic cooperation and acknowledging the shared responsibilities of the United States and Mexico to counter drug-fueled violence threatening citizens on both sides of the border. Through 13 years of implementation, the Merida Initiative has led to a new architecture for bilateral security cooperation, provided tangible support to Mexico’s security and judicial institutions, and helped to galvanize joint efforts to stop the flow of weapons and money, and the demand for drugs.
In 2011, Mexico and the United States agreed to a new strategic framework for implementing the myriad of Merida Initiative activities and programs, referred to as the Four Pillars, each of which pulls together Merida Initiative programs under strategic objectives. Taken together, these four objectives strengthen both of our societies in the fight against organized crime and violence.
PILLAR ONE – Disrupt Capacity of Organized Crime to Operate
Diminish the power of organized criminal groups by systematically reducing drug trade revenues by interdicting drugs, stopping money laundering, reducing production, and dismantling criminal organizations. Through equipment, technology, and training, the Merida Initiative supports better investigations, more arrests and prosecutions, and shipment interdiction.
- Mexico funds the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to validate a study on opium yield and poppy cultivation, officially known as MEX-K54. Under the Merida Initiative, the United States has spent over $1.3 million to support the travel of Mexico’s MEX-K54 teams. In 2020, the total area under opium poppy cultivation in Mexico (measured in hectares) reached the lowest totals since 2014. Poppy cultivation decreased by 24 percent, from 30,400 hectares in 2019 to 23,200 hectares in 2020.
- The Southern Border Telecommunications (SOBOT) Program enhances the ability of Mexico’s migration and law enforcement agencies to communicate and coordinate operations to counter human smuggling, irregular migration, and transnational criminal organizations (TCO) in real-time along key border trafficking routes. Since its March 2020 inception, the $52 million USD program has assisted Mexican law enforcement in the capture of 14 cartel members, 16 drug traffickers, and over 58,000 kilograms of cocaine destined for the United States.
- Merida Initiative programs have donated more than 500 canines to Mexican federal, state, and military entities, and sponsored training for canine and handler teams to detect weapons, ammunition, currency, and drugs. Donated canines are a key component of bilateral efforts to detect, investigate, and target TCOs producing and trafficking synthetic drugs.
PILLAR TWO – Institutionalize Capacity to Sustain Rule of Law
Enhance the capacity of security and justice institutions and personnel to sustain the rule of law and support Mexican government efforts to promote accountability, professionalism, and integrity. Merida Initiative programs train and equip police departments and academies, emergency communications centers, forensics labs, and corrections institutions to improve citizen security. They also offer technical assistance, training, and equipment to Mexican state Attorneys’ General Offices and Judiciaries and support the professionalization of criminal justice operators.
- The Merida Initiative Corrections Program provides capacity building to prisons throughout Mexico working to achieve international accreditation. Since 2011, 98 Mexican correctional facilities have received accreditation.
- To date, the Merida Initiative has committed over $406 million to support Mexico’s transition to the New Criminal Justice System. The wide range of projects includes state-level attorneys general exchanges; forensic lab assessments, training, certification, accreditation, and equipment; and law school seminars for professors and students. The support also includes courtroom IT equipment packages essential for oral trials and training for prosecutors, investigators, and other justice sector personnel.
- The Merida Initiative supports professionalization of Mexican federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies and increases the capacity of their specialized investigative units. This assistance covers a range of training, including instructor development for federal and state police academies, and courses on leadership and supervision, basic police skills, and specialized investigative skills.
PILLAR THREE – Create a 21st Century Border Structure
Facilitate legitimate commerce and movement of people while curtailing the illicit flow of drugs, people, arms, and cash. The Merida Initiative supports improved infrastructure and technology to strengthen and modernize border security at northern and southern land crossings, ports, and airports. Professionalization programs amplify the skills of officers managing the border and the provision of additional non-intrusive technologies assist in the detection of criminal activities.
- The Merida Initiative provides assistance to Mexico to bring land, air, and seaports of entry to improved performance standards, with modernized technology and policies and procedures. In partnership with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Merida Initiative programs assist Mexico in strengthening security at Mexican airports with direct flights to the United States. Airport security infrastructure upgrades that include body scanners and other detection equipment for illicit goods have been completed in Mexico City, Cozumel, and Monterrey airports. Merida Initiative programs also partner with the U.S. Coast Guard to provide technical assistance to the Mexican navy to improve seaport management.
- Merida Initiative programs currently fund a $3.4 million dollar assessment to promote increased integration of operations and technology at border crossings managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Mexican Customs (ANAM) to increase security and trade. This study is facilitating a dialogue between U.S. and Mexican counterparts on better integration of inspection and border security to facilitate trade flows, legitimate travel, and border security for both countries.
PILLAR FOUR – Build Strong and Resilient Communities
Strengthen communities by increasing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, promoting human rights, and reducing impunity. By implementing programs that engage youth in their communities, building community confidence in public institutions, and reducing drug demand and addiction, Merida Initiative assistance strengthens Mexican communities against organized crime.
- Merida programming supports establishment of an objective standard for measuring the professional competency and knowledge of prosecutors and public defenders, establishing state bodies for certification of legal professionals. To date, 11 states have established formal certification bodies for state prosecutors, and 18 more are working towards formal agreements.
- USAID has improved the coordination between courts, prosecutors, police, and citizen groups in six states and developed solutions for criminal justice issues resulting in a 416% increase in case resolution for robberies, and an 87% increase in case resolution for domestic violence in focus regions. USAID has also committed to programming for at-risk youth. During FY2020, USAID partnered with the private sector, academia, civil society, and state governments to deter over 3,300 at-risk youth from entering or returning to a life of crime. Of youth who participated in USAID programs, less than 7% committed new crimes during FY 2020, compared to the national average of 60%.