The Mexican public was further disturbed by the ambush of a U.S. vehicle with diplomatic plates carrying a pair of CIA agents that came under attack by Mexican federal police on the road between Mexico City and Cuernavaca in August 2012.
“The incident was deeply embarrassing for President Calderón but he decided to retain his trusted head of Public Security in charge of the federal police,” Gonzalez said. “This event was an eye-opener to U.S. government officials because it showed how well-informed and brazen Mexican police could be regarding movements of U.S. covert agents operating in the country. In turn, Mexican politicians of all stripes, including some in president Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN), complained in public about the shambolic lack of control of police forces.”
Gonzalez said the incident aided Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the recent election.
“Mainstream media and social media fed the perception that Calderón had ended up giving U.S. law enforcement, intelligence and military forces no-strings-attached access in Mexican territory,” Gonzalez said. “And this led to a significant backlash against this strategy.”
Despite the efforts under the Merida Initiative Mexico experienced what Steven Dudley, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, characterized as “an unprecedented spike in violence.” Homicide rates tripled during the Calderon years and several cities found themselves under siege by the drug cartels who developed their own paramilitary forces. Targets included politicians, police, military personnel, and civilians.
Peña Nieto assumed office maintaining that he would focus his efforts on reducing violence. He dissolved the Secretariat of Public Security, the prime conduit for U.S. assistance under the Merida Initiative, with its responsibilities shifted to the Interior Ministry, leading to speculation that continued cooperation between the two nations was shaky.
Dudley said the change represents “a step backwards in relations and adds layers of bureaucracy that will make it harder to foster the regular and informal contact that some mid-level managers enjoyed during the previous administration and that led to some of the ‘shared cooperation’ sought under Merida.”
Meanwhile the violence continues apace, Dudley said.
Brownfield and the State Department maintain Peña Nieto and his administration are committed to continuing the close collaboration on security issues although with a sharper focus on crime prevention and the rule of law.
“The Peña Nieto administration has proposed a security strategy which includes establishing a commission for the prevention of crime, revising the practice of pre-trial detention to better protect human rights, strengthening the attorney general’s office and creating a national human rights program,” Brownfield said. “The strategy also focuses on police professionalization by seeking to create a career professional service.”
The shift in emphasis, Brownfield told the subcommittee, jibes with the planning and direction of the State Department under the Merida Initiative.
“Building on the Peña Nieto administration’s agenda for police professionalization, we are prepared to work with the government of Mexico to enhance and professionalize existing law enforcement institutions to develop federal standards for Mexican officials in the areas of recruitment, training, discipline and promotion,” he said.
The U.S. under Merida will also continue to build on the successful changes made within the Mexican corrections system and work toward beefing up Mexican law enforcement presence along the border.