US and Mexico discuss overhaul of joint security strategy

Officials are set to hash out a new agreement aimed at addressing root causes of violence and cross border crime.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is leading the US delegation to Mexico, said the aim of the talks is to create 'truly a transformational partnership of shared responsibility' between the US and Mexico [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

The United States and Mexico are seeking a new security agreement to address drug cartel violence and other security issues during US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the Mexican capital.

The one-day visit on Friday comes as both countries have indicated a willingness to overhaul the 13-year-old Merida Initiative, under which the US provided military firepower, technical support and security training to address crime, particularly cartel violence.

Blinken, who travelled to Mexico City with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, met Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Friday morning.

Both Mexican officials have called for an end to the Merida Initiative, which they see as a relic of the past, and for a new agreement that focuses on development funding and other root causes of crime and migration.

“Criminal organisations are constantly adapting techniques and making the most of new technologies so we need to adapt as well,” Blinken said from Mexico City. “We need to be just as creative and nimble.

“After 13 years of the Merida Initiative it’s time for a comprehensive new approach to our security cooperation, one that will see us as equal partners in defining our shared priorities,” he said.

The US has given Mexico $3bn for the programme since 2008.

Meanwhile, more than 300,000 people have been murdered in cartel-related violence since the Mexican government deployed the military in the war on drugs in 2006.

Some experts believe the strategy of militarisation has failed because it has resulted in the fragmentation of cartels into smaller, more violent cells, while failing to stop drug trafficking.

At a breakfast with both delegations, Lopez Obrador on Friday said “it would be very unfortunate if we didn’t understand each other, if our cooperation, the friendship between our governments and our peoples wasn’t strengthened”.

Officials from Mexico and the US have said they are in the process of developing a new framework that will take a more holistic approach to addressing crime, while tackling a broader range of issues than the previous initiative.

Worked out over the last few months, the new framework did not foresee Mexico receiving military equipment or funds, and was instead focused on information exchange, interagency cooperation and training of personnel, a Mexican official told Reuters news agency.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Mexico City, Manuel Rapalo, said the US is calling the new initiative the US-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health and Safe Communities.

“But as we heard from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken … part of the reason for this long name is that it is so far-reaching, and it speaks to the shared responsibility that both countries have on a number of wide-ranging issues,” Rapalo said.

After Friday’s talks, Washington will develop an action plan by December 1 and then expects to have a three-year bilateral framework and plan agreed by January 30 next year, officials said.

The agreement is also expected to address immigration and people smuggling.

Foreign Minister Ebrard, meanwhile, has said Mexico will push the US to do more to stem the flow of illegal guns into Mexico and to speed extraditions requested by Mexican prosecutors under the new agreement.

Friday’s visit comes after security cooperation between the US and Mexico suffered a major blow last October, when US anti-narcotics agents arrested former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos.

The arrest took the Lopez Obrador administration by surprise, and gave fuel to Mexico’s long-standing concerns about US anti-narcotics agents impinging on its sovereignty. It prompted Mexico’s Congress to pass legislation to make it harder for US agents to work on Mexican soil.

US officials have since complained that efforts to battle powerful cartels were obstructed because of the fraying in relations, and the inability of US agents to move freely around Mexico.

But Al Jazeera’s Rapalo said both countries on Friday expressed “a willingness to rekindle” their relationship.

“What we heard from both delegations today is that the Merida Initiative is dead, it is now being replaced by this new bicentennial framework for cooperation between the United States and Mexico,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies