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Merida's New Direction

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield (February 22, 2012)

Training, capacity building and exchanges are the new focuses in the anti-drug trafficking initiative.

The U.S. – Mexico partnership aimed at fighting drug trafficking is taking a new direction. Now in its fourth year, the Merida Initiative is evolving away from a focus on heavy equipment deliveries and toward training, capacity building and exchanges, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield.

U.S. support for the Merida Initiative totaled $1.6 billion dollars in its first three years, said Assistant Secretary Brownfield. And, for every U.S. dollar, the government of Mexico spent thirteen: "This is very much a shared effort, a shared responsibility, a shared response."

A major part of the joint effort is aimed at transforming the nature of the U.S. - Mexico border. Improved technical assistance and training on both sides of the border are enabling law enforcement to better monitor and identify illegal firearms shipments. U.S. customs and border protection teams are now screening outbound rail and vehicle traffic for weapons and bulk currency and border enforcement security teams are investigating organizations involved in cross-border smuggling.

Now that aircraft, vessels, scanners and other crime-fighting equipment are in place, the program will increasingly focus on strengthening democratic institutions, enhancing the role of civil society, reducing impunity and improving respect for human rights. Having improved partnership on the federal level, the initiative will now focus more intently on communities, said Assistant Secretary Brownfield. “Our second transition has been a shift from working with the federal institutions -- police, prosecutors, courts, customs – to state and local institutions. That in essence is a challenge for 2012.”

“While we obviously still have a great deal of work left to do,” Assistant Secretary Brownfield said, “the Merida Initiative is beginning to bite”

“You can see that in terms of more than 35 senior drug trafficking leaders who have been taken down over the last three years as opposed to like one or two in the three years before that. You can see it even in the violence in the streets, which is reflective of organizations that are striking back now that they find themselves under some degree of pressure.”

“I have a lot of confidence in the Mexican people,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a recent visit to the region. “I have no reason to doubt that, as we’ve seen in other countries, Mexico will be successful.”