By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
During the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue in Mexico City on Friday, Oct. 8, the two governments agreed to jointly address a series of pressing bilateral issues, drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal weapons transports, while generally ignoring the elephant in the room — the growing migrant problem along the shared border.
Instead of touching on the politically caustic issue of migrants, the main focus of meeting was to find a mutually acceptable alternative — albeit, possibly in name only — to the Mérida Initiative, a security agreement signed in 2008.
In a joint statement at the end of the one-day conference largely intended to soothe growing binational tensions over security concerns, both governments reiterated that they are confronting “common problems that must be addressed jointly.”
The new bilateral plan, titled the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health and Safe Communities, replaces the $3 billion Merida Initiative training, equipment and intelligence-sharing accord to combat cross-border drug trafficking, organized crime and money laundering.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) had openly criticized the Merida Initiative repeatedly since taking office in December 2018.
The new agreement establishes a comprehensive, long-term approach to security, with “both countries acting as equal partners.”
“Mexico and the United States promise to act together to protect our citizens by investing in public health regarding the effects of drug use, supporting safe communities and reducing the number of homicides and high-impact crimes,” said Mexican Foreign Relations (SRE) Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a joint statement.
“We shall work to prevent cross-border crime by making travel and trade safe, reducing arms trafficking, focusing on illicit supply chains and reducing human trafficking and smuggling.”
The two governments also pledged to go after criminal networks by obstructing the financial operators of international gangs and strengthening their respective security and justice sectors.
Both governments also signed a “Memorandum of Understanding to Reduce Illicit Substance Abuse Disorders and Related Damages,” as well as establishing a joint “Network for the Prevention of Homicides.”
“We declare our support for current initiatives and the need to maintain ongoing initiatives to prevent firearms sold in the United States from reaching Mexico, as well as measures aimed at identifying, pursuing and investigating methods of financing, transportation and communication used by smuggling networks,” the statement said.
Another agreed-upon issue was an effort to strengthen the state and federal police in Mexico “so that they can combat, investigate and prosecute the criminal use of firearms.”
To that end, the statement said that additional ballistics laboratories will be set up to process the more than 80,000 illegal weapons seized in Mexico each year.
“We reaffirm our commitment to expand bilateral cooperation to combat illicit smuggling and trafficking in persons by transnational criminal organizations, and to collaborate in the prosecution of human traffickers on both sides of the border,” the statement said.
In addition to the migrant issue, what was notably not mentioned in the statement was any reference to AMLO’s demand that the United States finance an expansion of his Semblando Vida social-works tree-planting program, nor was there any mention of Mexico’s refusal to grant visas to 24 DEA agents.
Notwithstanding, on Saturday, Oct. 9, U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar specifically called on the AMLO government to grant these agents the visas they need to perform their jobs in Mexico.