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What can the United States do to help weaken the grip of drug cartels in Mexico?

Question submitted by Wil Fisher, from Pepperdine University, March 8, 2013

Answered by: Shannon K. O'Neil, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program


In 2012 over 10,000 Mexicans lost their lives in drug-related violence. But organized crime has now moved beyond drugs to encompass a broader range of crimes, including kidnapping, extortion, and robbery. To combat these disparate challenges Mexico needs to strengthen its democratic rule of law. This will require professionalizing the country's police forces and strengthening its court systems in order to diminish the corruption and impunity so prevalent there today. Former president Felipe Calderón took initial steps in this direction, expanding and investing in the federal police and passing constitutional reforms to change the justice system, that, when implemented, should make the system more effective and transparent.

Current president Enrique Peña Nieto's government still has much to do, including following through on the judicial reforms, and working to professionalize state and local law enforcement. The United States can support its neighbor in these efforts. It can help Mexico develop policing standards and training, as well as encouraging exchanges between officers and forces on both sides of the border. On the justice side, the United States can help Mexican officials as they work to rebuild or remodel court rooms, rewrite textbooks, redesign law school course syllabi, and train lawyers, judges, and court officials in the new system.

Through this refocus from more militarized bilateral security assistance to institution building, Mexico and the United States can work together to strengthen the rule of law, to the benefit of both countries.