Inside Story Americas

Putting an end to Mexico's drug war?

Pena Nieto set to meet Obama amid reports that Mexico's new crime prevention policies aim to shut out Washington.

Last Modified: 01 May 2013 10:12
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Barack Obama, the US president, and Enrique Pena Nieto, his Mexican counterpart, are set to meet this week in the Mexican capital.

The meeting between the two American leaders comes amid reports that Mexico City is shifting its security strategy, and shutting Washington out of its counter-narcotics operations.

[Pena Nieto] is trying to re-position their strategy to focus on the more outrageous crimes of kidnapping, extortion, the things that affect people's daily lives rather than go after the kingpins and the kilo seizures, which really do help US drug warriors and hardliners justify their budgets ... but it really doesn't do much to reduce the amount of drugs coming into the United States ...   

Sanho Tree, Institute for Policy Studies

One of the most striking policy initiatives unveiled by Pena Nieto is the shift in strategy to tackle the crime associated with the country's drug cartels. In February, he promised to invest billions of dollars in social programmes to address the root causes of crime. 

He detailed part of his new strategy which will focus on prevention, rather than the deployment of thousands of troops to kill cartel leaders.

Pena Nieto said the government will spend $9.2bn on social programmes, which will aim to prevent young people from joining criminal organisations.

The programmes target 251 of the most violent towns and neighbourhoods in Mexico.

And will include:

  • improving health and social services
  • preventing and treating drug addition
  • and creating jobs

Througout hise election campaign, Pena Nieto emphasised violence reduction over the military crackdown favoured by Felipe Calderon, his predecessor, that has resulted in so many tens of thousands dead.

Perhaps most worrying for the US is the curtailing of resource and intelligence sharing between the US and Mexican law enforcement officials.

On Sunday, The Washington Post revealed just how integral the US and its security agencies have been in driving Calderon's War on drugs, which began in 2006.  

That seems to be changing, much to the relief of those who have long argued that the violence that has been unleashed - more than 60,000 deaths in five years - is unsustainable.

On Monday, the director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas wrote to President Obama criticising his administration for its complicity in human rights violations associated with the war on drugs.

At a White House press conference on Tuesday, Obama said he does not yet know if bilateral relations will change.

So, how will the shift in Mexico's security strategy impact on the US' counter-narcotics policy?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch's America's division, who has just returned from a meeting at the White House; Jose Cardenas, former State Department official specialising in Latin American affairs; and Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy studies and directs their drug policy project.

"...We’ve made great strides in the co-ordination and co-operation between our two governments over the last several years. But my suspicion is, is that things can be improved. And some of the issues that he's talking about really have to do with refinements and improvements in terms of how Mexican authorities work with each other, how they coordinate more effectively, and it has less to do with how they’re dealing with us per se."

Barack Obama, US president


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