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U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation

Speakers: Alejandro Hope, Project Director, Less Crime, Less Punishment Project, Instituto Mexicano para la Competividad (IMCO) and Mexico Evalua, Shannon K. O'Neil, Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies, and Eric Olson, Senior Associate, Mexico Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Presider: Ginger Thompson, Domestic Correspondent, New York Times
May 1, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations

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SHANNON O'NEIL: Good morning. Thank you for coming here. Welcome to the council on a lovely, rainy May 1st morning. We're very glad to have you here for this symposium on "U.S.-Mexico Relations Beyond the 2012 Elections."

I want to start thanking the Mexican Business Council, known in Spanish as the Consejo Mexicano de Hombres de Negocios, who have been very supportive of the U.S.-Mexico Initiative here at the council, and particularly for the symposium that we have here today.

We're very pleased to have many of their members here today, so please come up and introduce yourself. Get to know them. And one of them, Claudio Gonzalez, will be on the second panel. It will come up after this one.

We're here today to focus on U.S.-Mexico relations moving forward. As most of you know, both countries, the United States and Mexico, will be having elections this year -- Mexico in July, the United States in November. And so, what we're going to talk about today is the bilateral relationship, where it is now, but also where it may move forward with these new administrations coming in in both countries.

I want to welcome the speakers we have here today. Many have traveled from Mexico to join us and to bring their particular insights.

Our first session here will focus on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation. The second session will focus on economic and trade relationships. And the luncheon session will discuss the future of U.S.-Mexico relations, bringing together two experts, Dr. Bob Pastor and former foreign minister, Jorge Cateneda from Mexico.

Let me thank you all for coming. Thank you for joining us in these discussions. We look forward to your thoughts in the question-and-answer periods of each of the sessions. And now I'm going to open it up, turn it over to Ginger Thompson from the New York Times to begin the security panel. Thank you.

GINGER THOMPSON: Thank you, Shannon. And, again, thank you to the council for the invitation. I'm delighted to be here. And thank you all for being here today. It's a pleasure.

This is a topic, actually, that I come at from lots of different perspectives in that I spent six years in Mexico City as the Times bureau chief there. I spent five years writing about U.S.-Mexico cooperation in Washington. Now I'm in New York, where I'm an investigative reporter and I continue to write about Mexico's drug war.

But a lot of my life I've been immersed in this relationship between the United States and Mexico because I grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, which is a short walk away from Ciudad Juarez, and has become emblematic of Mexico's turmoil. I can recall a time when people there thought about crossing the border about as much as they thought about commuting to work. But now even when I go to El Paso, I, like most Americans who live there, only cross the border when necessary.

There are 50,000 reasons for that shift. For reporters, as many of you know, Mexico has become one of the most dangerous places to work in the world. But it's not just Mexico's death toll. It's the rampant impunity that has allowed killers to get away with such spectacularly vicious crimes.

So, Americans on the border tend to stay on their side of the line, disturbed by what's going on in Mexico but taking comfort in the fact that the violence isn't spilling over. Meanwhile, Mexicans justifiably complain about American complacency, saying that while our demand for drugs drives the trade and while our lax gun laws help arm the traffickers, we're unwilling to consider politically challenging solutions because it's not American blood that's being spilled.

As both a reporter and someone who grew up on the border, I sort of see the same dynamic driving relationships between communities on the border as driving the relationships between governments -- between our two governments.

You know, the United States and Mexico talk a good game about increased cooperation and, to be sure, the two governments are doing things together that they would have never done five years ago. But WikiLeaks laid bare the fact that while things have improved, there's still a long way to go in building a firm, steady relationship between Washington and Mexico City.

Deep distrust and resentments remain, and while both countries are preparing for presidential elections, as Shannon said, there is concern about whether the violence in Mexico is going to really unify the governments or move them further apart. Luckily, today this panel is being led by three of the most informed experts on this topic, and I'm going to introduce them to you.

Alejandro Hope, who is the project director of Less Crime, Less Punishment for the Instituto Mexicano para la Competividad and para Mexico Evalua. Eric Olson is a senior associate at the Mexico Institute for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. And Shannon O'Neil is the Douglas Dillon Fellow for Latin American Studies here at the Council on Foreign Relations.

So that's the panel. Let me start with Alejandro because I'd like to kick off this conversation with your perspective as someone who has also worked at high levels of Mexico's intelligence apparatus. He was a member of the CISEN, or an official at CISEN, which is Mexico's version of the CIA. And in his recent assignments and work, he's identified little-known trends based on an exhaustive analysis of crime statistics in Mexico that suggest violence there may be on the decline.

I wonder if you could talk to us a little bit about where you see things today in Mexico, and the impact that Mexico's war on drugs has had on trafficking organizations.

ALEJANDRO HOPE: OK. Well, thank you, Ginger. Thank you to the council. And thank you to all of you.

Yeah, I think we are at crossroads, a very interesting crossroads. For about 30 months, beginning from early 2008 through the middle of 2010, we have a very, very rapid increase in the level of violence. The number of -- of daily -- the average of homicides per day went from 29 to 60. That is pretty much without precedent in countries that do not have a civil war.

And then something rather interesting happened, which is that from the middle of 2010 onwards, violence started to stabilize. There was a bump in the second quarter of 2011 and then it has gone into a steady decline.

In the first quarter of 2012 we had, for the first time since 2007, a year-on-year decline in the number of homicides; i.e., the number of homicides for the quarter was smaller than what we had last year, the first time that something like that has happened in five years, which I think is very significant.

I think most of those numbers are from official sources, but even from unofficial sources we're starting to see the same thing. Just today the newspaper Milenio published its numbers for April. If you compare April 2012 to April 2011, you see a 28 percent decline, which starts seeming to be rather significant.

And in some really iconic places you are starting to see a change, a rather significant change. Ciudad Juarez is two-thirds down from the peak. It is no longer, by any meaningful metric, the most dangerous city in the world and probably not even the most dangerous city in Mexico. I was just in Ciudad Juarez last week and the change in the perception in quite significant. So, what is driving this? I don't think there is very fully established theory, but I would point to a number of issues.

One is the fact that capabilities have increased significantly at the federal level. The federal budget -- the security budget has increased by 74 percent over the past five years. Secondly, you might start -- you might be starting to see a shift towards a more collaborative environment between some criminal gangs. There has been a lot of talk about that in Tijuana.

THOMPSON: The gangsters are cooperating with one another.

HOPE: There might be some collaborative equilibrium at some point, which isn't completely unprecedented in other parts of the world.

THOMPSON: Sure.

HOPE: You might start to see some improvement in state-level capacities. The improvement in economic conditions might also be playing some role at the margin. But I think -- this is interesting, and I think it starts to change the narrative, and it might start to change the politics of the security situation in Mexico.

THOMPSON: All right, let me stop you there because, Eric, you've recently traveled the length of the Texas-Mexico border. And I read some of your blog posts from that trip and you sort of seemed to experience a bit of a disconnect between public perceptions and the trends that Alejandro is describing, particularly in Laredo -- Nuevo Laredo, which is one of the busiest border crossings in the world.

And you found people there who told you that things seemed as bad or worse than ever. In fact, you wrote, "If there is an area of Mexico teetering on the border of failure, it could well be Tamaulipas," which is the state where Nuevo Laredo is located. Tell us what you saw there. And, based on what you saw, give us your impression of whether Mexico's winning its war.

ERIC OLSON: Well, you're right. I think one of the things that Alejandro was referring to and that I come back to often is there's a broad public or national narrative, if you will, of homicide rates and whether they're up or down. But there's also a real important sort of local dynamic that we need to look into and drill down on and understand.

So, when we traveled from El Paso-Juarez all on that Texas-Mexico border, you know, there's a certain sense of optimism, as Alejandro pointed to, in Ciudad Juarez, that had been the most violent city in the Americas. There is a sense of optimism. There's a return of people. I'd never heard of people being happy about traffic jams -- (chuckles) -- because it was a symbol of people returning there.

But as you travel down that border and you get closer to Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa and Matamoros, the storyline begins to shift. And there's certainly a sense there that they're not -- haven't turned the corner, that the dynamics are still very negative, and that if -- you know, things could even get worse. And we've seen some recent reporting of new violence, extreme violence in Nuevo Laredo.

It's an important -- it's important to keep in mind that there are local narratives, local realities that need to be understood and addressed in that particular situation, be it local street gangs, local consumption --

THOMPSON: But explain how is it that you can have two such different narratives, you know, on the same border? Is it that -- you know, what's different about El Paso and Laredo? Why are things so different there?

OLSON: Well, we tend to, especially in the United States, talk in broad strokes about drug trafficking from the south to the north but, in fact, a lot of the violence is driven by local dynamics. The traffickers out of the Andes moving drugs into the United States aren't really engaged in the local violence. They're trying to move product north and make a lot of money. And it's the local dynamics that tend to be more violent that involve street gangs, that involve kidnapping and extortion and those things.

So that's why you can have a different narrative. In one place things have settled down, maybe the gangs have become less violent or there's been a local strategy. In other places, there is no particular strategy to deal with that local dynamic. So, I guess what we're trying to say is, look beyond the general narrative to what's happening in the particular --

THOMPSON: OK, great.

I want to go to Shannon and ask you to take us from the ground to 30,000 feet, and to the state of the political relationship between the United States and Mexico vis-a-vis security cooperation.

The framework for the relationship has been the Merida Initiative, which is a $1.6 billion assistance package. It provides military equipment and training to Mexico. Most people I talk to don't think it has worked or has helped, really, resolve Mexico's biggest problem. What do you think?

O'NEIL: When I look back before the Merida Initiative, what the United States and Mexico were doing together on security cooperation, the answer is very, very little. We were sending much more money to Peru or Bolivia or other places, much smaller countries, much further away from us, than we were to Mexico. We were sending less than $40 million a year to Mexico.

With Merida, we've seen a huge increase in the monetary resources, almost $400 million. And more than just the money, we've seen much more back and forth between the U.S., all the different departments of the government, between the military, between police forces, a real exchange between the different governments. So, all of that I see as good. We actually now have a security relationship with Mexico, which we really did not have before. So that is a sea change from, say, five years ago.

During this five years, what is Merida has also changed. And so, I think some of the critics are, has it changed just on paper or has it changed in real substance? And so it started off, frankly, as a real military-to-military package. It was equipment, it was speedboats and helicopters and other types of equipment. There were some other ideas in there but much, much smaller.

So, in the first couple of years that is what really went to Mexico. When the Obama administration came in, they worked with the Calderon government to renegotiate, to rethink what Merida would be. So, moving from capturing kingpins and some rule of law type thing, they moved into what they call four pillars.

So, one is still capturing kingpins, disrupting organized crime. Two is strengthening institutions. Three is modernizing the border. And four is what they call creating resilient communities; i.e., trying to get at the socioeconomic factors that open up space for violence and crime.

And I think when you look at the last five years you can say the two governments have done a fairly good job on pillar one in disrupting organized crime -- a lot of the things Alejandro was talking about. You look at the "most wanted" list in Mexico; over half of them have been taken down. So it's done a pretty good job on that side.

You go to pillar two, which is strengthening institutions. I think there has been a lot of progress made on the federal police. They're creating a federal police force that has moved from, you know, several thousand to 35,000 individuals that are better trained, more professional, more equipment, more cohesive as a force, better technology. I think that's happened.

But as to the other half of that pillar of strengthening institutions -- we're talking about the justice side -- there's been very little movement. And so, how do you actually end crime if you don't have a justice system that can take the criminals that are arrested and move them through?

And then, finally, on the third and fourth pillar, the border and the resilient communities, most things have must been small pilot programs and really just demonstration things. And partly that is these are very hard things to do. Partly there are some problems in the United States. But there is a sense, also, I think if you talk to people in the United States, which I know you do, that the Mexicans have been much slower in wanting to move on these pillars too.

So, in terms of what the Merida Initiative encompasses, I think it is actually a pretty comprehensive plan that, if implemented, could do some good things for both countries, but we've only really seen the first pillar, pillar-and-a-half, seen real progress on. So it's still a work in progress, if you will.

THOMPSON: Well, and I also think that people perceive so little progress because the task is so enormous, and I don't think people in the States always understand just how big the task is. I mean, we're talking about one of the largest economies in the world with a nonfunctioning justice system.

I mean, I remember -- you know, I'll quote Eric again because he said this for the New York Times. We were talking about just how big the task is and he said, "It's sort of shocking that Mexico is just now learning how to fight crime in the midst of a major crime wave." And then he added, "It's like trying to saddle your horse while running the Kentucky Derby." And that, in fact, is sort of the deal.

And I want to get Alejandro's thoughts, one on, you know, whether Merida is big enough, whether what the United States is doing is big enough, but more importantly, can Mexico fight a war while it's building the army, which is what it seems Calderon has been trying to do. He's wanted to take a short cut. Instead of building the institutions first, he sent in the army, hoping that they could, you know, give him the time he needed to build the law enforcement institutions -- the courts --

HOPE: Yeah.

THOMPSON: -- the prisons that could handle this war.

HOPE: Yeah. Just a rejoinder to what Eric said -- yes, I agree there are really large regional differences in the trends, but it was the same thing on the way up.

THOMPSON: There were regional differences on the way up.

HOPE: There were major regional differences, and there are major regional differences on the way down. But about many -- I think, from the Mexican side, many of them were never about money, or not just merely about money.

On the Mexican side it was for the U.S. to accept that it was partially, or at least partially, responsible for crime in Mexico and for organized crime in Mexico and money was just a symbol of that sense of co-responsibility, which is a word that -- a buzzword that become quite famous in Washington and Mexico City in the past few years.

But I think many ended up in some middle ground between merely symbolic amount and a game-changer. It was never -- it was certainly a tenfold increase in counternarcotics assistance from the U.S. to Mexico but it was never more than 4 percent of the total security budget in Mexico. It was just -- this is not Plan Colombia, which really, really changed the terms of the equation on the ground, for a number of reasons.

THOMPSON: But Plan Colombia wouldn't have been possible in Mexico, right, at least for political reasons.

HOPE: Probably not, because Plan Colombia implied a much more active presence of U.S. military personnel and intelligence personnel.

And, secondly, what you have in Merida, you also have a very big problem with implementation. Of course, $1.6 billion have been appropriated. If I remember, well, as of late last year, only 900 million (dollars) had actually been spent. And of those 900 million (dollars), 500 (million dollars) were actually spent last year, where there was a significant ramping up of the assistance.

And most of that, as indeed Shannon was saying, has been in airplanes and helicopters. About 70 percent -- or 70 percent or so has been in hardware. So, what remains goes mostly to training, but it's not enough -- not nearly enough to really change to have a ramp up in capabilities over the short term. They have trained about 8,000 police officers, something about that -- something like that. When you consider that Mexico has the need to retrain 450,000 police officers, you see the success.

And the second question was -- I'm sorry.

THOMPSON: Now I don't remember. Sorry. Let me -- can we skip the second question? (Laughter.) I'm sorry; it totally skipped my --

And I wanted to quickly ask Eric -- because I know, Eric, you have spent some time with law enforcement agencies actually on the border with federal and state and local agencies on the border, and talk to us a little bit just about, you know, how the cooperation works or doesn't work. You know, where could things be improved in the actual cooperation between the agencies?

OLSON: Well, it's very interesting. You know, there are many, you know, positive examples of where collaboration and cooperation has improved dramatically at really at a nuts-and-bolts level of trying to make cases, as prosecutors and police often say. The level of trust and collaboration on a number of cases has really increased. I don't even want to use the word "problem," but the challenge related to that is that's oftentimes very tied to the individuals.

The best examples, frankly, are when you have, on the U.S. side, law enforcement people who are from that area, many of them Mexican-Americans who can understand and relate culturally to their Mexican counterparts, speak their language, understand that dynamic, and they can build that trust. I mean, I've seen it in California, I've seen it in El Paso and Juarez, I've seen it in many places where it's really working well. But the worry is that it's less institutional and more individual.

And what happens when, you know, the FBI agent who's been there for 20 years and has those cross-border relationships retires? That's the part that's worrisome. I guess we need to celebrate the advances that are there now, and we just hope that it makes that sort of institutional leap. That's important.

THOMPSON: Yeah, and talking about institutions, I mean, the weakness of the institutions is one of the things you've written about, Shannon, and all of you have. But, you know, the threat that the drug violence poses to Mexican democracy is something I know you've written about, Shannon. And I wonder what you make of the concerns in Mexico that organized crime could attempt to influence the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections. I mean, how serious is that?

O'NEIL: You know, I don't see organized crime organized enough, or trying to influence the national elections, right, the presidential election or maybe the federal senator and representatives. But we do have examples already, and even running up elections at the local level, where organized crime has been quite influential. They've either bought or threatened candidates.

We've seen many candidates resign for local mayorships, for other types of positions because they didn't want to be bought off. Or those that stayed in the race, you may sort of wonder how they could stay in the race and others -- we don't know, but you have a sense, right? And even in Michoacan, where there was a series of elections just recently, the Federal Electoral Institute, and others, saw a role for organized crime in some of the particular districts. So I think it is an issue, particularly at the local level.

But, you know, one, if you look at Mexico's history -- and, you know, some of this is quite opaque and it's hard to know. And it is in any country. This isn't perhaps the first time that organized crime has been involved at a local level or moving up the food chain to perhaps even a national level. I mean, some Mexican scholars and historians feel that organized crime actually was closely linked to many federal-level institutions back in the '70s and '80s.

And so, this is a struggle that Mexico has been dealing with for many years. And I would say one of the benefits of democracy -- while it does challenge democracy, one of the benefits of democracy is that there is a competitive element to taking on organized crime. And so, you look at polls in Mexico, and even though many people feel -- most people feel that this government is not winning, quote, unquote, "the war against organized crime," the majority want them to continue doing these types of things. They want them to take on the criminals. They want them to take on organized crime.

And the fact that Mexico is a democracy now and people care what voters think and care about polls, whoever the next president is in Mexico there will be an electoral incentive for him or her or their party to continue to do some of the things that we've seen, rather than go back to -- I mean, there's been talk about, are they going to go back to a pact with the narcos?

THOMPSON: Right.

O'NEIL: But I think there's actually an important electoral incentive for Mexico not to go back that way.

I know you want to comment on this, Alejandro --

HOPE: Of course.

THOMPSON: -- I want to ask you a second question --

HOPE: Sure.

THOMPSON: -- so remember what it is this time. (Chuckles.)

And that is, you know, I would have thought, and I think a lot of people would have thought, that the security situation would have been a big issue in the presidential campaigns this year, and so far I've seen very little from the candidates about proposals for how they would handle -- specific proposals for how they would handle the security situation. Can you talk about why that is? And also, you know, feel free to comment on Shannon's --

HOPE: Yeah, I want to argue that there has been relatively little space given to security policy in the campaign trail, for two reasons. One, because maybe there -- because of relatively improving indicators in some areas, there has been a certain loss of the sense of urgency that was present even a few months back.

THOMPSON: Really?

HOPE: Secondly is something that Shannon was pointing out, which is that no candidate wants to stray very far from current policy, or they are afraid to stray relatively far. At some point -- and when Lopez Obrador, who is the --

THOMPSON: Right.

HOPE: Well, I'm not sure, but -- (chuckles) -- but, I mean, Lopez Obrador actually said that he would bring back the soldiers to the barracks -- that was the formula he used -- within six months. And after a few days of attacks from the media and from other candidates, he backed up and he said the army will return to its constitutional purpose when the police forces are ready.

So, indeed, I mean, the perception seems to be that there is very little policy space for any change in strategy. What they're saying, we will bring force -- we will do -- put some additional emphasis on this or that, we'll maybe invest more in the financial downturn, maybe we will try to build up more rapidly a federal police, maybe we'll try to create some specialized units.

But it's a sense -- in that sense, I mean, Calderon has had a victory in terms of he can set the agenda. Whether that will continue in the future is still to be seen. Maybe some of the candidates will not really announce what they're going to do until and when they come to power.

THOMPSON: OK.

Eric, what do you think about Washington, and what's Washington thinking in terms of, you know, the Mexican elections? And also, is Washington considering any change in its own sort of strategy for dealing with Mexico or helping Mexico deal with its security problems?

OLSON: Well, whenever anybody asks me about Washington I always say, which Washington are you talking about? (Laughter.)

THOMPSON: Very good point.

OLSON: It seems like there is at least three, maybe four, Washingtons that we could be talking about.

THOMPSON: Especially in an election year.

OLSON: I mean, in terms of -- I think in terms of the White House and particularly the State Department -- I mean, we don't -- obviously we don't know what the presidential election in November holds, so it's -- you know, we might need to put that a little bit on hold.

I think in terms of the State Department, you know, there's a lot of continuity there. There's a lot of commitment to continuing to build the close collaborative relationship. You know, Congress is another question entirely, and it's interesting, and there's some sort of, you know, contradictory things that I can't always put my finger on or understand entirely.

On the one hand, you know, President Calderon has gotten enormous credit for taking on the cartels, being aggressive. And I think the question people in Congress are continually asking -- because they ask me all the time -- are they going to continue in some fashion? And there's some, you know, worry that at some level there may not be a continuation.

I think that worry is largely unfounded and, you know, the more things go along, the question is not will there be a continuation of an aggressive policy, but what are some of the nuances of that policy? So I think that's generally the situation.

Now, the two things that kind of get, you know, to be burs under the saddle are how we understand the border and the whole border violence question. And, you know, there's just contradicting opinions about that, but the U.S. tends to often -- or I should say U.S. Congress focus and fixate on that border, and that can be a troubling thing.

The second thing is the Mexican insistence on focusing or pushing the U.S. to focus on the weapons question, the firearms question, and the consumption question. And, you know, if you sit in the shoes of Mexico, there's reason to be frustrated with the United States. There has been public commitment and acknowledgement of this issue, but there has been very little progress.

So, I think that becomes also an issue that gets debated a lot in Congress: What, in fact, will and can we do on weapons and on consumption? Frankly, I don't think there's a political consensus there that allows any real progress.

THOMPSON: Great. Thanks.

Well, you know, one of the things I think that's happening because of that frustration in the region is that there has been a shift in the political thinking --

OLSON: Right.

THOMPSON: -- on this issue. I mean, it used to be that only ex-presidents from Latin America --

OLSON: Right.

THOMPSON: -- would talk about legalization, because they had nothing to lose. But now an increasing number of sitting Latin American presidents are joining the chorus on legalization. It was a topic at the recent Summit of the Americas where the United States sort of made clear that it wasn't really, you know, going down that road.

So I wonder, where is this conversation headed, Shannon? Where do you think the legalization debate is going to go? But, more than that, would legalization -- or what impact would it have, in your thought?

O'NEIL: I mean, it is going to be a topic of conversation, and it's a perfect soundbyte, right? It's one word and it -- you know, it's sort of the silver bullet that will solve the problems. It will take the money out of it, supposedly, and that will get rid of the violence.

So, at least for Latin America, check; done with the problem. I mean, that is simple but wrong. And, you know, if you look at the United States' struggles with legalization, or the way the United States' markets work, it has some lessons for Latin America and for these issues.

When you look at the one drug that we have legalized through the end of Prohibition, alcohol -- and, you know, it hasn't all been, you know, sweetness and light for the United States, right? People -- you know, families are destroyed by the addiction to alcohol. We see huge costs there. We see huge public health costs from what it does to people's bodies when you're addicted to alcohol. And we see huge costs to total strangers who are killed by drunk drivers.

I mean, it is a huge cost for our society. And, in fact, I read a statistic that, of the people in U.S. jails convicted of a crime, half of them were under the influence of alcohol when they committed their crime. And so, the costs of alcohol in the United States, which is legal and, as we know, widely acceptable, is -- you know, there's a cost there. So that's one thing that's sort of a cautionary note.

But, two, you look in the United States and the fastest-growing drug problem we have, and the drug that kills the most individuals in the United States -- the type of drug that kills the most U.S. citizens are prescription drugs. These are legal drugs. They're being used illegally.

THOMPSON: Right.

O'NEIL: But if you were to take cocaine or heroin or marijuana or meth, or whatever the pharmacy cabinet is, and legalize them, one is, what would you do? Would this be -- you know, you could get them with your Pepsi or Coke at the McDonald's, or what is that you would do?

But, two, if it becomes a prescription drug, you have the same problem you have with all these other drugs that are being abused in the United States. And so, I think those lessons of how our market works, you know, it cautions those who say legalization would solve many of these problems.

And, finally, yes, there is the transit that is causing much of the violence, but Latin American countries are becoming consumer countries as well, so they have some of these public health and criminal problems that we have as well.

THOMPSON: But isn't the question sort of a comparison of problems? It's like, which problems do you want as a society, 50,000 people dying in drug violence or, you know, an increase in drug addiction? And I wonder if that's what Latin American leaders are weighing when they think about this problem: Would legalization at least stem the violence?

Alejandro, what do you think?

HOPE: Oh, sure it will.

THOMPSON: Right?

HOPE: No probably. It would. But the issue is which legalization of which drug? I mean, the only drug that has only chance of there being legal commerce over the next decade is marijuana. In Mexico that represents about 20 (percent) to 30 percent of the actual revenues of drug cartels.

And in the rest of Latin America it would barely make that. Latin America does not have a drugs problem; it has a cocaine problem. There is little or no chance that cocaine will become legal over the next decade or even beyond that.

But I think by -- the presence of Colombia and Guatemala were noticed, but there -- still not in a way that is probably not visible right now. By putting this on the agenda, you can shift the conversation in terms of who is responsible for the drug problem and who has to pay.

You could argue that global drug control is the public good -- public good in the economic sense of the word. So, in that sense it might make -- there might be a case for significant transfer of money from consumer countries to transit of producing countries. Actually, that was -- the only real proposal made by the president of Guatemala was that the U.S. should send far more assistance to Central America --

THOMPSON: Right.

HOPE: -- because of that. So, in a sense it does shape the conversation, but I think it's not as --

OLSON: You know, when you talk at length with the Guatemalan authorities around this issue, they say that it's not that they're pushing legalization. As Shannon said, it's the easy sort of phrase that people pick up on and report on. But what they want is a discussion about alternatives, a different approach.

They feel that they are paying a heavy price and that their institutions are so weak that they can't respond effectively. And so they want the United States to engage the region in alternatives, not be stuck in repeating and doing the same thing we've been doing for the last 40, 50 years that doesn't seem to be working.

Legalization is obviously something that's on the table. People want to discuss it. I agree it's not a panacea; it's not going to solve all these problems. And even if you legalize, you create a secondary set of problems that may be even worse.

But the question is, how and where and under what conditions do you engage in a debate and a discussion around drug policy in the region? The challenge for the Obama administration is that they have, on the one hand, promoted the idea of partnership with the region on everything. So it's not easy to say, well, we want to partner with you all on a lot of things but not on this one.

On the other hand, legalization of drug consumption is really a domestic policy question. The U.S. is not going to engage in a legalization -- you know, the question of legalization is not going to be decided by the foreign ministers of countries in Latin America. So it's a real sort of policy dilemma, and you could just tell U.S. officials were squirming a lot as they went into the Cartegena Summit because there was just so many cross currents on this one.

THOMPSON: Well, let's cast forward a minute and sort of pretend for a minute that it's December 2012. Now, the last two American presidents-elect have made it a priority to meet with their Mexican counterpart pretty early after the elections.

So let's pretend, Shannon, that you get a call from either President Obama or President-elect Romney and they say, I'm going into a meeting in five minutes with the new Mexican president. Legalization, a ban on assault rifles and immigration reform are not politically possible right now. There's no room in the budget for a more robust version of Merida. So, what's the one thing Mexico might want that I can actually deliver?

O'NEIL: Easy question. (Laughter.) You know, I'll take it from where Eric did.

I mean, what I think the United States can do -- and I think it helps with this discussion of legalization helps temper the critics -- is to focus on the strengthening the institutions. And it costs a lot less to train people than it does to buy a Black Hawk helicopter, and so if we have $400 million a year in Merida, roughly, putting that towards the training and strengthening institutions I think is the way to go.

Now, that isn't something that six months later will show big results. It's something that perhaps it's easier at the beginning of two terms than at the end because you have some time to see change. But that to me is where the U.S. can go with limited resources, and frankly should go, because when you think about the violence in Latin America, yes, much of it has to do with drugs, it has to do with the flow of drugs.

But, you know, where are drugs most expensive? Where is most of the drug money? And where are most of the guns? Well, they're in the United States, but we don't have the violence problem, right? But here's where the profits are and here's where most of the guns are, even though Mexico has the problem. So, what is the problem in Mexico or Colombia or other places? Well, it's these weak institutions.

And so, if you want to think of -- if you can, in this first meeting, think of a long visionary strategy rather than what do you need before next April, if you can, that is where I'd focus. I would refocus and say -- on the Merida, not the first pillar anymore. Not that we'd end that pillar, but that's not the one to fund. Let's focus on these other ones, which haven't really been the focus of attention of the two governments together.

THOMPSON: Eric, you wanted to say something.

OLSON: Well, no, I think the key word which Shannon just said right now is "focus." I think we all share a common goal of stopping and disrupting and ending the harms cost by trafficking, but the focus is very diffuse. Mexico tends to define a series of priorities and the U.S. has a sort of a different series of priorities, and we don't always line up what it is we're doing together.

I think there are different ways to focus. I'm not judging one way or the other. You could focus on a particular group. You could focus on a geographic region. You could focus on a particular drug that you found most offensive. You could focus on a particular kind of crime -- you know, mass killings, beheadings, whatever.

But I think both sides should do a better job of lining up their focus. And that means working together beyond just, you know, the individuals, and really coming up with a joint strategy over a long haul. I think that's what's important. The U.S. tends to focus on some things, Mexico other things, and that weakens the overall effort.

I agree entirely with Shannon. Long term, you have to invest in institutions, both at the federal level but also at the state and local level. And that's a real challenge as well, but I would really make it a focused approach.

THOMPSON: Mexico needs, you know, a turnaround now. Alejandro, so what do you think? What are some of the things that the two governments could do right now to produce sort of some quick turnaround?

HOPE: I mean, the U.S. has a number of high-value targets already in its custody. They flip prisoners pretty much every day. They have a large network going forward, both in Mexico and in the U.S.

They can leverage those capabilities to change incentives that some of the drug gangs face. They could be rather explicit -- I mean, they don't have to go public with this, but they could be rather explicit, the guys they have in custody, that they will focus on those groups that could be the most egregious acts of violence.

THOMPSON: Isn't that happening, in a way, in Mexico? Mexico has sort of identified the Zetas as cartel number one, target number one, right?

HOPE: Well, that may be happening. I'm not sure if it is happening. If it is happening, probably Zetas are not getting the message. (Laughter.) So we might want to reinforce the message.

THOMPSON: All right, might send the message a little more strongly. Yeah. Right.

HOPE: But indeed -- I mean, I think that the U.S. has leverage. The U.S. has leverage. There was actually -- I mean, a few months back there was narcomanta, you know, those messages that the gangs hang in the cities -- that was signed by Zeta Cuarenta, which happens to be the number-two guy in Zetas, said very explicitly -- said, well, I really don't want to be the focus of attention of the U.S.

THOMPSON: Is that what he said?

HOPE: He said -- that's what he said, I wish that -- and why would anyone want to make believe that this is what -- Zeta Cuarenta saying that? It doesn't make sense. So it's probably genuine. So, I mean, there is leverage there, and I think the U.S. could use it in a far more effective way than it has.

Another thing -- I mean, both governments could agree that there is not much to be done on the guns issue. Ultimately, as with drugs, it is a demand issue. Mexico needs a demand reduction program for lead.

So, we need to focus on -- we need to reduce the stringency of that issue and actually improve -- I mean, there are gains to be made quite rapidly in some areas. I think focusing right now in Ciudad Juarez, where you have an improved security environment, could yield significant results. You could have a success story relatively quickly.

THOMPSON: And change the narrative, right?

HOPE: And change the narrative at the local level. And that could be extended to other areas. So that's what I would tell him.

THOMPSON: OK. And with that, I am going to invite members and guests to join our conversation with their questions. Please note -- and I'm not sure I said this at the beginning -- this is on the record. And this session is being teleconferenced in Washington. And so we will also hear from them during this question-and-answer session.

So, please speak into the microphone directly. State your name and your affiliation. And please limit yourself to one question, all right, so we can get as many people as possible.

Sir?

QUESTIONER: Good morning. My name is John Laughlin (ph). I'm -- (off mic) -- and I'm also -- oh -- I'm also an assistant special agent in charge with the Drug Enforcement Administration here in New York. I am not an expert on Mexico, but I am familiar with some of the challenges that they faced.

One thing I have not heard the panel speak to is the level of corruption that exists in the country. You can invest as much money as you want in training, in equipment, but I know from some of the internal things that I have read and my conversations with some of my colleagues is that corruption is one of the biggest challenges that they face. So, I want to know what impact you feel that has on both domestic and international policy and relations.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

Anyone on the panel, please.

O'NEIL: I'll start, and I'm sure my colleagues will join in.

But I think this is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for Mexico. And, in part, when we talk about strengthening institutions, it is training police officers to do their job, but it's also putting in the institutional, the internal affairs or the other types of checks and balances to make sure -- or to incentivize cops to stay clean, and to incentivize these forces to be cleaner.

And I think the biggest challenge -- when you think that for the next president of Mexico, the biggest thing I am watching or will be watching is what happens to justice reform? So, in Mexico in 2008 there were a series of constitutional and legislative reforms that, when implemented, should fundamentally transform the court system in Mexico.

And it will do a lot of things. The most visible is change it from a written system to an oral trial system, but there's other changes in what defense lawyers, prosecuting attorneys do, what types of judges, what they do, and such. This was given eight years to be implemented, so it should be implemented by 2016. This will be under the mandate of the next president.

So, watching what the next president does, do they take on justice reform as theirs and make sure it is implemented and see it to fruition so we see in four years a different court system, or do they say, no, it needs other changes, we need other constitutions reforms; let's go back to the drawing board? I mean, that will be, for me, very telling on sort of the progress Mexico will make in the long term.

And I bring up the court system because, you know, if you want to stop corruption, you need to prosecute and convict those that commit corruption, and so far in Mexico, unfortunately, we have seen, as far as I can tell, none -- maybe you have a couple of examples -- any high-level politicians or others actually brought through the system, prosecuted and convicted for corruption.

THOMPSON: Speak on this, Alejandro.

HOPE: I think in terms of the context of U.S.-Mexico relations, I mean, the issue of corruption should be understood in two different ways. One is, how can the U.S. cooperate with Mexican partners who, because of this problem, they distrust?

And there are ways around that. There are embedded units in Mexico in most of the security agencies with whom the DEA and other agencies work pretty much every day that have been embedded by the U.S. government in some measure. So, I mean, there are ways around that.

The other problem is more systemic. It is, how do we reduce the general level of corruption in Mexican law enforcement criminal justice institutions? And that is a long process, and it has to do, again, with -- it has to do with legal reform, whether criminal justice reform. It has also to do with police reform, rebuilding some of the police -- the police forces in Mexico.

There is a massive program in place for what is called, in Mexico -- (Spanish phrase). I mean, the vetting -- having -- the new police forces that come through the system are now far more vetted than in the past. And I would argue that some of the new police forces are probably more honest than in the past.

It's still a huge challenge going forward. I think there's as huge challenge in terms of the prosecution -- prosecutorial capabilities. I think that's one of the areas where there should be some focus going forward, but, again, you have to separate the two issues.

THOMPSON: I mean, speaking of prosecutions, it's like 98 percent of crimes in Mexico that are prosecuted never reach a conviction.

O'NEIL: Never reach a conviction.

THOMPSON: Ninety-eight percent.

O'NEIL: Right.

THOMPSON: Right. OK. I just wanted to throw that in.

Another question, please. Let me get this side of the room next. Sir?

QUESTIONER: I'm Richard Downie from the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington, D.C., and my question is for Alejandro.

You mentioned in your opening remarks that the violence in Mexico has stabilized and is now starting to go down. And you attributed that partially to state and government capabilities, and the other part to sort of the collaboration amongst gangs.

A couple of months ago I heard the minister of public security, Garcia Luna, talk about the fact that the violence is stabilizing, going down. And he compared what's going on to cities such as Boston and New York, which had, you know, seen violence go up in their efforts to reform -- violence go up, stabilize and go down. And he said Mexico was now making that same pathway.

And I wonder if you would agree with that, or how much, for example -- what percentage of this decrease in violence is due to better state and federal capabilities, and how much is just due to the gangs just making accommodations amongst each other? Thank you.

HOPE: I don't think they're separate issues. I don't think they're independent variables. I mean, the behavior of the gangs depends in part to the institutional environment they have to respond to. If there are more capabilities, they might be more inclined to have a collaborative relationship and not a conflict-ridden one -- maybe, OK?

I think -- I mean, there are several stories that still need to be written in Mexico. I mean, Tijuana, for instance, about 80 percent down from the peak now. So, is that a story about improved state capacity, or is that a story about the gangs reaching some sort of collaborative agreement?

Well, I think it's both, and there are also other factors going on. And I would argue that a similar dynamic is happening in the U.S. from the '90s onward. It's not all about policing. It's not all about better policing. It's also, for instance, the end of the crack epidemic in the U.S. It's also about changes in the social environment, changes in demographics.

I mean, these are complicated issues, but indeed I think we still have to be cautious whether we're -- that we're going to see a sustained decline going forward. I think we -- I mean, we are having some indications that the wave might have reached its higher point, but, again, I would wait a few more months before making a definitive claim in that regard.

THOMPSON: Another question from the audience. Sir?

QUESTIONER: Thanks. I'm Reese Avanis (ph) from J.P. Morgan.

I heard Mexican political analysts and even some, you know, average Mexicans expecting that with the likely victory of Enrique Pena Nieto, the PRI candidate, that there could be a surge for some accommodation on the -- (inaudible) -- I believe from 70 years of the (supreme ?) power, in which there is a sense of there was accommodation just because there was not as much violence as there is right now.

How much do you think this is a misperception? And if, in fact, the PRI tried this strategy, whether they could succeed, given how out of control the situation seems to be. Thanks.

HOPE: For me? The question?

QUESTIONER: For anyone who --

THOMPSON: Why don't you start, Alejandro? And, Eric, then sort of give us your thoughts.

HOPE: I would argue that the environment both in the criminal underworld and on the state -- on the side of state makes it far more difficult to reach those kinds of systemic accommodations that might have existed.

There was never an explicit pact between drug traffickers and the federal government. What you have is a centralized -- an agency that centralized the relationship between the state and the drug traffickers. Before 1985 it was the -- (inaudible). Post-'85 it was the Federal Judicial Police.

But what has happened over the past decade is that many more players on the state side are now involved in fighting drug traffickers. You have, of course, the army and the navy, but you have a new and very important player in the federal police. And even within those institutions, you have some specialized units that fight drug traffickers that do not necessarily are tied to the territorial chain of command. So it's far more difficult to reach a pact on the state -- from the state side.

But also, when you think of the environment and the criminal underworld -- when the Calderon administration started you had six major gangs, basically. Right now you have a few -- at least a dozen, if not --

THOMPSON: Major gangs?

HOPE: Well, at least you have a dozen gangs that might be involved in some way in moving relatively large volumes of drugs. And you have other gangs that are involved in extractive activities such as extortion and --

THOMPSON: Kidnapping.

HOPE: -- and kidnapping. And then you would have others that are involved in human trafficking, and others in stealing fuel from Pemex. So it's a far more complicated -- it's a far more complicated environment. And so, the notion that you can have some sort of pact is at least far-fetched, I would say.

THOMPSON: Is that concern real in Washington, Eric, as far as you can tell?

OLSON: I think people, especially in Congress, again, are asking themselves that -- is there a commitment to aggressively pursue it? And there is a question as to whether there may be an attempt to reach some accommodation.

Personally -- and this is what I've said continually -- I don't think it's -- I don't think it's a real danger. I do think whoever wins is going to be committed to continuing in some fashion, and the kind of accommodation that people talk about is just really not a practical reality anymore. And I think Alejandro hit on it.

The dimensions of organized crime have changed dramatically in Mexico, and so to think you can sit down and reach an agreement is just -- one thing we always say is it's disorganized organized crime. (Chuckles.)

You know, we talk about cartels as if there was a neatly organized sort of body that you could sit down and negotiate. In fact, it's a whole series of different criminal activities that are, at different levels, intersecting but not well organized and controlled.

Alejandro has a wonderful graph that I used in a publication of how complex and how -- you know, the various networks and levels of this criminal activity. It's pretty disorganized at some level.

THOMPSON: Great.

Another question. Sir, you had your hand up.

QUESTIONER: My name is Antonio del Valle. I'm a member of the Consejo Mexicano de Hombres de Negocios. And, more than a question, what I want to give to the panel and the floor is my experience like entrepreneur.

In one state that you call one of the dangerous states in Mexico is the state of Tamaulipas. We have huge investments there, four different industrial installations, one in Nuevo Laredo, the other in Matamoros, and two more in Altamira.

And in the last six years in this so-called drug war, we just didn't have any -- I don't say any, but very small crime situations in our plants. We have over 2,000 people working there. Every morning they go to the plant.

And my personal feeling is that the war is between the gangs, and they are killing into the gangs, but generally they do not go with the good people. So the bad people are killing between themselves. And the army is, of course, in that state and keeping order.

And so, that's what I want to say because there is a lot of things that they tell about Tamaulipas and about Mexico and about the -- but if you are a Mexican entrepreneur and normal Mexican citizen, you can live practically anyplace and don't have any --

THOMPSON: Any problem.

QUESTIONER: -- different danger than you have in other big cities in the States or in Europe or so on.

THOMPSON: Thank you for that.

Let me take a question. This woman here in this row. Yes, please. And then I'll come back to you.

QUESTIONER: OK, hi. I'm Kirsten Cowal from the Tinker Foundation.

I had heard that there was some discussion in the Mexican congress about some kind of a law to unify police forces at the state level. I'm wondering if you can elaborate on that. Thank you.

THOMPSON: Do you want -- go ahead.

OLSON: There was a proposal from the executive, from the president, to create a national police body. And then at some level there was, you know, a discussion about whether you created 32 states and do away with all the municipal police.

The idea, I think, of that is to have clear lines of communication; you know, reduce the number of forces, not the number of law enforcement people but concentrate it and make it easier to coordinate. Colombia, for instance, has a national police. It doesn't have, you know, this plethora of local police forces.

It's never prospered politically, and I'm not even sure entirely of the merits of it. It's never prospered politically because, you know, if you're a municipal president or you're state governor, it's kind of hard to give up control over your police. Nobody really wants to do that.

And creating unified police force while, you know, appealing at some level also becomes a unified target for corruption. And, you know, it becomes, you know, also a real challenge. So, I don't know. Alejandro has written a lot about this as well --

THOMPSON: Yeah.

OLSON: -- so I'd be interested in his opinion. I don't think it's going to happen.

THOMPSON: Right.

HOPE: Yeah, I mean, there are -- in 2009, President Calderon sent a bill to congress that would have indeed -- it wouldn't have eliminated all municipal polices. Some municipal polices would have survived under the new system but they would have been certified by the federal -- by the federal Public Security Ministry. That never prospered.

And, secondly, the police forces would have been under the control of the governor, even if there were municipal and -- that never prospered because a lot of mayors from relatively large municipalities said, no way I'm going to lose about two-thirds of my budget, which is -- or over half of their budgets. So that never -- that never prospered, and I don't think it's going to prosper in the new administration.

So we have to go back to the design face and find a way of solving very real problems about coordination, about capacity and about integrity of police forces, and see what -- and we have to do that by shifting the institutional framework. But we need to do it in a way that is politically viable.

And, secondly, whatever the model we choose, whether it's only one national police, whether it's 32 state police forces, where it's a myriad of municipal police forces -- I mean, just a reminder; the U.S. has 18,000 different police forces, which is 12 times more than Mexico.

I mean, we will still need a local police, a cop on the beat, someone that the community can go to and knows and who understands what's going on on the ground. And that is, I think, a more complex discussion than how many police forces should there be?

THOMPSON: Let me take a question here, this gentleman in the back there.

QUESTIONER: Phil Carter from Caerus Associates.

And, Shannon, I want to press you on the assertion that we should increase the second pillar of the Merida Initiative. It's sort of easier said than done. The U.S. has a playbook for doing this. We typically work through things like the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, where they can field advisors at a rough order of magnitude cost of a thousand advisors for $500 million. So, it's not nothing. It's actually pretty expensive.

But that just focuses on the police and that just focuses on the kinetic aspects of the security forces. We don't have a very good playbook for improving the courts. Our partners at DOJ and elsewhere are anemic when compared to State Department's capability. So, how do we do pillar two with the current U.S. capability? How do we actually build this capacity in the broader rule of law system of systems?

O'NEIL: You know, partly it is a coordinating mechanism, right? USAID or the others within State only have a set amount of money, and as you say, right, how much can you put in?

But, you know, what does Mexico need? OK, well, if the court system is going to transform, I mean, they need actual courtrooms because they haven't held oral trials. They don't have a physical place to actually have a trial. But they need new law school curriculums. They need to retrain judges and lawyers. They need to train people to argue -- to make arguments in an oral space.

And we have -- we have the government, but we also have, you know, the ABA. We have a whole set of institutions in the United States and organizations that I think you could bring together as a coordinating mechanism.

And there are -- a lot of these organizations, you talk to different chapters around the United States, different pro bono sides of law -- you know, law firms and others that would be willing to do these. And some of them have relationships, right, because of people they know or others. But it's very piecemeal at this point, right? It's not anything comprehensive. And I do think there's a coordinating side the United States could do on that side.

But part of it is the United States could be involved. But in the end, what happens in Mexico with this criminal and justice institutions will depend on Mexico, right? As Ginger mentioned, 4 percent -- no, as Alejandro mentioned, 4 percent of the overall security budget comes from the United States. Money is not going to be where we help, right, but where I think we can help are in these smaller niches and coordinating.

Many of the people that want to help -- different private sector institutions or nonprofit institutions that want to help and help coordinating making the effect not just particular, you know, interventions but a broader sort of system to help what I think are actually true reformers that want to change the system down there.

THOMPSON: Let me take one more question. I should get this side of the room. The gentleman here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Sam Logan. I'm with Southern Pulse.

I have a question that may broaden a little bit the discussion, if I may. If we can agree that Mexico has perhaps seen the high-water mark for violence, I would submit that the northern tribal countries of Central America have yet to see that mark.

And if we're thinking about beyond December of 2012, the next administration in Mexico, my question for the panel then is, what may be the appetite in Mexico for assisting Central America with some of the things that they've learned along the way in the past six years?

Or, on the flip side, would Mexico have perhaps even the political currency or the resources, public security speaking, to assist or even contain what we may see coming down the road? Thank you.

THOMPSON: Good question. Let's start with Eric on that. What do you think, Eric?

OLSON: Come on.

THOMPSON: I'm sorry.

(Cross talk.)

OLSON: No, Sam -- good to see you, Sam. It's a very good question.

I mean, part of what has happened over the last two or three years is that the trafficking has shifted back downstream, to some extent. I want to be careful here because I'm not saying that the Mexican traffickers have all moved to Central America.

I think we've all agreed that it's not so much that the Zetas are all in Central America now, but the trafficking routes, the points of entry, the first stop-off from the Andes is primarily now Honduras, Guatemala, but Honduras, and some in El Salvador. And so, there is a very real threat there, obviously, to the stability of countries.

If Mexico faces serious challenges in its own governability, Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador tenfold, I think I can say without exaggeration. It's enormous, the challenges there. So, I think the U.S. has begun to do some of that pivoting and created some programs there, and I think they're trying to take it more seriously, especially in Honduras. There's some real alarms going off there.

But I think Mexico is slowly also realizing that it's great if that traffic shifts downstream, but it's still going to impact -- having countries on their borders to the south that are completely over-run is not necessarily making Mexico any safer. And so, there's a real effort to refocus there. Exactly how that's going to play out, I really don't know --

THOMPSON: What do you think, Alejandro?

OLSON: -- but I think it's an urgent mission.

THOMPSON: What do you think, Alejandro? Sorry.

HOPE: I think, well, two things.

I think the best way to help Central America from Mexico is to improve control over the southern border. You have right now -- if I remember correctly, you have nine legal points of entry -- points of entry in the Mexico-Guatemala, Mexico-Belize borders. You have about 53 illegal points of entry, I mean, where you can -- actually you send in a truck. I mean, so, to improve some -- to have some measure of control over the physical border might reduce the incentives for the traffickers to use Central America as a transshipment area.

Secondly, I think we should look very carefully at what's going on in El Salvador right now because, if I remember correctly, homicides are down, like, 50 percent or so over the past few months. I mean, they claim to have negotiated -- or they deny they have negotiated a truce with the Maras (ph), but that's what has happened.

I'm not claiming that this should be done anywhere else, but I think we should look very carefully because that -- if it holds -- if the model holds in El Salvador, it might -- the governments of Guatemala and Honduras might be tempted to try something similar.

THOMPSON: Let me take one last question and then wrap up. This young woman here -- (audio break) -- women in the room.

QUESTIONER: Hi. My name is Shamina de Gonzaga. I co-present a series called "Indocumentales," of documentary films and dialogues on Mexico-U.S. migration.

My question -- all the panelists evoked the notion of shared responsibility that was acknowledged at the highest levels, but in the U.S. I haven't seen that trickle down into a kind of societal acknowledgment of the shared responsibility of the U.S. in all of these questions. I'm wondering, from your standpoints, what could be done to encourage greater acceptance and engagement at that level. Thank you.

THOMPSON: Shannon, what do you think?

O'NEIL: You know, we'll talk about this in the other panels as well. This leads us well into the rest of the discussion.

But what sometimes amazes me in the U.S.-Mexico relationship, given how deep it is, not just on security but in terms of sheer number of people and families and communities in terms of the economic trade and economic ties in intracompany -- within companies that we will talk about, is sort of how little play it gets more broadly, outside of the Washington policy circles or perhaps some of the financial circles in New York.

And we do see it at local levels, right? You go to the border and sometimes it's almost fluid, until very recently very fluid across families and schools and people going back and forth, right? I mean, your upbringing I'm sure was that, right?

QUESTIONER: Right.

O'NEIL: But even though, you know -- what is it now -- 22 out of 50 U.S. states, Mexico is the number one or two export destination for those companies. Even though that's half of the United States, you don't -- it hasn't yet permeated that this is a part of daily life for the United States, that Mexico is a part of daily life, for all of these reasons.

And so, that actually I think is a real challenge for people like us, you know, newspapers or people who think about these issues, is how do you engage these broader communities that their day-to-day life is affected by the relationship? How do you really make it part of it? And not just the bad that we're sort of talking about here, the worrisome, but the really good part? I mean, think that's a challenge for a documentary film. Like, how do you raise that profile?

So, I don't have an easy answer for you, but I think it's something that all of us need to think about and work on because it's much more than drug trafficking. It's much more than all these issues. And it's part of your everyday life.

THOMPSON: Well, I think that's the perfect way to wrap up this session. I want to remind everyone that the next session will begin at 10:30 a.m. and we'll focus on U.S.-Mexico economic ties.

I want to thank our panelists. It was a fabulous conversation. (Applause.) And thank you all.

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