(Josh Denmark/CBP)

U.S. Gave $700 Million to Mexico for Counternarcotics, Border Security, and Related Efforts

From fiscal year 2014 through 2018, the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allocated about $723 million for the Mérida Initiative, a partnership which aims to address crime and violence and enhance the rule of law in Mexico. There is a focus on mitigating the impact of the drug trade on the United States.

State projects included training and assistance for Mexican justice sector, military, law enforcement, and border security officials. USAID projects included efforts to engage with Mexican organizations and the public to address corruption, promote trust in government, and prevent crime and violence.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to review and describe the initiative’s funding and projects. The review found that over 80 percent of the funding went toward rule of law and human rights, and counternarcotics efforts. Of the $723 million, State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) allocated about $542 million and USAID allocated about $182 million.

There were 445 State/INL and USAID Mérida Initiative projects active from fiscal year 2014 through 2018. State/INL funded 388 of the projects and USAID funded 57, which tended to be larger with higher funding amounts than State/INL projects.

State/INL projects generally focused on providing training and assistance to Mexican officials from the justice sector, border security, military, and law enforcement, as well as equipment, including for forensic drug laboratories, drug detection, and border surveillance.

Many USAID projects were intended to engage with Mexican civil society organizations and the public to address corruption, promote trust in government, or prevent crime and violence, such as through skill-building for youth, efforts to advance human rights, or technical support for judicial system development.

USAID told GAO that the Mérida Initiative has been instrumental in advancing reforms to the Mexican criminal justice sector, promoting human rights, building strong and resilient communities, and improving integrity and accountability.

State/INL and USAID implemented their projects mainly through contracts, grants, and interagency agreements, as well as through agreements with international organizations, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Organization of American States.

State/INL supported 76 counternarcotics projects, with funding estimated at $115 million, which focused on assisting Mexican agencies countering the illicit drug trade in Mexico, primarily through technical assistance and equipment, including for forensic labs, drug detection, and surveillance. For example, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance technology has been provided to the Mexican Navy to expand its capacity to conduct counternarcotics operations. In addition, the Organization of American States implemented a project that expanded Mexico’s drug treatment courts, which offer rehabilitation services and other nonpunitive alternatives for drug offenders who would otherwise face time in prison.

There were 68 border and port security projects, with State/INL funding estimated at $217 million, and these focused on various efforts and equipment for Mexico’s border and military officials including equipment for biometrics, surveillance, and telecommunication.  DHS’s Customs and Border Patrol provided mentors and training to Mexico’s border officials to improve their capacity to stem the northward flow of migrants entering Mexico along its southern border.

Read more about State’s and USAID’s efforts in Mexico at GAO

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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