Hillary Clinton Mexico Visit: US and Mexico Shift Drug War Approach

During the high-level Hillary Clinton Mexico visit Tuesday, the Secretary of State endorsed a new drug war strategy, which includes a more targeted focus on community-building.

Mexico City – The promise of broader drug-war support from the US as Mexico battles deadly drug traffickers was welcome in Mexico among those who support their president’s tough stance against organized crime but worry that his military strategy alone is not working.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a high-level meeting in Mexico Tuesday, spoke of a new strategy under the Merida Initiative, the $1.4 billion aid package to help Mexico and Central America fight the scourge of organized crime, which includes a more targeted focus on community-building.

“They are realizing that, to fight this drug problem, it is not something you can leave to the military [alone],” says Analicia Ruiz, a professor of international relations at Anahuac University in Mexico City. “They are now looking at it from a broad perspective … it is much more than just a problem with security; it’s a problem within society.”

Mrs. Clinton, who was in Mexico with, among others, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out plans that span beyond access to military hardware.

Four-Pronged Strategy

The four-pronged strategy includes disrupting the criminal organizations, strengthening institutions, building a border that is safe but productive, and boosting communities so they can resist the power of drug traffickers.

“We are expanding the Merida Initiative beyond what it was traditionally considered to be, because it is not just about security. Yes, that is paramount, but it is also about institution-building,” Clinton said after meetings Tuesday. “It is about reaching out to and including communities and civil society, and working together to spur social and economic development.”

The announcement by Clinton comes as Mexico has already begun expanding its approach from the military strategy, which remains the key component, to an acknowledgment that social factors that drive violence, such as a lack of jobs, must be addressed, too.

“We Are All Juarez”

The federal government has launched a new program in Ciudad Juarez, the nation’s most violent city where an American couple affiliated with the US consulate was shot dead this month in a daytime, drive-by shooting. The program, “We are all Juarez,” promises to create jobs, increase education opportunities, and tackle drug prevention and rehabilitation.

The US, which has supported Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s strategy to dispatch more than 45,000 troops and federal police across the country as the main front against organized crime, has touted many successes. Mexico extradited 107 fugitives to the US in 2009, up from 95 in 2008, according to the US State Department.

Calderón’s Support Waning

But while the US has stood by Mr. Calderón’s side, some support at home has waned. In a survey published Tuesday in the daily newspaper Milenio, 59 percent of respondents said drug traffickers are winning the war. Only 21 percent called the government the victor.

Some 18,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in over three years, leading many to question whether the military alone can solve the security issue.

Both teams talked of getting a greater handle on drug consumption in their respective nations, though Clinton flatly said that decriminalization of drugs was not on the table for consideration.

“We want to make sure that when we talk about security, it’s not just security in the most obvious sense, to be safe in your home, but it’s economic security, it’s health security, it’s all of the ways that individuals have a chance to lead a productive and successful life,” Clinton said.

Even though some Mexicans dismiss the meeting as disguised US unilateralism, both tout the era of “co-responsibility,” says Ms. Ruiz, and many feel relief that both nations are now acknowledging the need for stronger communities. “The reality is we have such a long border, you cannot think of this as a problem of Mexico and a problem of US,” she says. “It is a problem for both countries.”