Brown University

Catching the “Bad Hombres”: The United States undermines its own efforts by Roxana Sanchez @ Brown University

Trump’s infamous comments during the 2016 presidential elections about Mexican immigrants and his stubborn efforts to build an expensive wall on the US-Mexico border are not reflective of true US-Mexico relations, even after Trump was sworn into office. In February 2017, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Trump shared a phone call that is now famous for Trump’s threats to send U.S. troops into Mexico if the government couldn’t take care of its “bad hombres.”

Though this phrase made for some great late night show jokes, (and even some great t-shirts), this statement showed the importance of coordination between the U.S. and Mexican government. The United States has invested, and currently continues to invest, in aid initiatives in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Previous administrations have understood the shared interest in regional security in Latin America to which Trump’s “bad hombres” comment inarticulately alludes to.

On of the lesser known, yet prominent, U.S. aid initiatives in Mexico is The Merida Initiative. According to the U.S. Department of State, the Merida Initiative has provided $2.5 billion since its start in 2008. The stipulations of the partnership mostly focus on Mexico’s judicial system and law enforcement capabilities, especially at the borders. For example one of the stipulations reads:

“…Mexico’s implementation of comprehensive justice sector reforms is supported through training justice sector personnel, including: police, investigators, prosecutors, and defense counsel; correction systems development; judicial exchanges; and support to Mexican law schools –in support of Mexico’s on-going transition to a new accusatory criminal justice system.”

Gibbler and Randazzo offer a summary of previous literature that reinforce ideas about the importance of an independent judiciary in democratic consolidation. Because the judiciary’s task is to uphold the rule of law, Notable political scientists like Larkin and Linz and Stepan argue that stronger and more independent judiciaries that can guarantee the rule of law are the last step towards achieving democratic consolidation. However, the United States keeps undermining it own efforts to establish an independent judiciary, and general democratic consolidation in Mexico by ignoring domestic policies.

At first-glance, the Merida Initiative make sense; it aims to strengthen enforcement of the state so that government is then able to resist and contain emerging crises before they reach the United States. It strategically aids foreign governments because it caters to foreign U.S. interests, similar to the funding provided to Pakistan and other countries to counter terrorism. The extradition of El Chapo to the United States is a clear example of the US’ worry that the state is too weak, given that El Chapo escaped from the highest-security Mexican prisons–twice.

But, aid programs like the Merida initiative are only aiming to solve a symptom of the problem not the cause. One of the major reasons why Mexican state is so unstable and weak, is not because it doesn’t have enough money, it is because of unprecedented levels of narcotraffic and rampant corruption happening in the region.

A big critique of the War on Drugs is that by criminalizing drugs and only focusing on the supply side actors, it does little to actually reduce narcotraffic and the drug trade. Despite the efforts to contain and detain narcos, it is evident that the drug trade will continue to be prominent as long as there is such a steep and lucrative demand for illicit drugs. It is no secret that America remains the number one consumer of illegal drugs. Meaning that while the United States continues to pour money to the War on Drugs and towards strengthening governments in Latin America, it will not see the desired trend abroad until it changes domestic policies to reduce the demand of illicit drugs on the US mainland.

There is a disconnect between the demand that occurs in the United States, and the human cost experienced in Mexico. Mario Berlanga, a graduate student at Stanford Graduate School of Business, has a great and compelling presentation on how the criminalization of illicit drugs in the United States leads to horrid violence and death of innocent people in Mexico. The War on Drugs has led to more persecution and higher rate of violence as narcos and cartels become more threatened and pressured by persecution. And the public in the United States will rarely hear about it. Despite the sensationalization and romanticizing of narcotraffic in the U.S. entertainment industry, the American public remains ignorant of the violent reality in Mexico. Even the events in Ayotzinapa, often referred to as the 2014 Iguala mass killings, didn’t get that much attention from US mainstream media despite the damning results of the investigation led by Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the incident.

The consequences of the War on Drugs have a whole different set of implications for communities living in the United States. Michelle Alexander, in her article “The War and Drugs and The New Jim Crow” discusses how the criminalization of illicit drugs in the United States has led to a targeted, systematic, disproportionate amount of African-American and Latino bodies being imprisoned. She argues that the effects are felt in poor communities of color while “those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought.

The United States’ failed policies regarding The War on Drugs have led to prominent democratic erosion both at home and abroad. The United States would be more efficient and successful in the War on Drugs if it sought to fix its own failure to address its own demand of illicit drugs.



  1. Gabrielle Minotti

    February 11, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    This is an interesting take on the dynamic between Mexico and the United States when it comes to the unfortunate tie between them of drug trafficking. Most Americans are quick to blame Mexico for the issue and see the fact that there are still drugs pouring out of the country as a failure on the part of Mexico’s law enforcement. However, this post brought up an interesting point. If the US’s own War on Drugs did not yield the significant results it intended in stopping drug use and trafficking, then how could Mexico be any different? As the post says, both efforts to reduce the drug problem in both countries looked at the supply side of the issue instead of the demand for drugs that causes the supply to be necessary. I find this post’s new perspective that the US should look into reducing our own citizen’s demand for drugs in order to stop the problem a difficult undertaking, but one that has creative and interesting avenues to explore. Could curbing American’s demand for illegal drugs be done by legalizing some and decriminalizing others? Through more education? Would these policies even work with our newly conservative federal government? Whichever avenue is taken to explore the curbing of American’s drug use, it should also try to solve the issues that come with cracking down on drugs, most notably the unequal imprisonment of minorities for drug related charges. This cannot happen if the response is more “cracking down” on drugs instead of exploring less conventional, more creative avenues.

  2. Julie Martinez

    October 25, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    The President’s rhetoric has not helped with the war on trade. He is describing all Mexicans as criminals. However, both countries are looking to solve the war on drugs by tackling it from the edges and they are not going to the core of the problem. The United States, as number one consumer, should find other ways to resolve and perhaps benefit from the problem. NAFTA has been in place for years and this year President Trump modified the agreement to include technology. So why not add permitted drugs into that agreement such as marijuana. A couple states have already legalized this drug for medicinal use and others have also approved it for recreational use. Why is the federal government behind in that aspect? Canada has also decriminalized marijuana throughout the country. If Mexico legalizes it as well as the United States, it may help reduce violence related to drug cartels in Mexico. At this point, the United States has attempted what it can to reduce the consumption of illegal drugs except permitting its use. It’s interesting what the Merida Initiative attempted to do in Mexico. However, as Roxana stated, Mexican law enforcement is full of corruption. The financial support may have been wasted because the problems was not addressed at its roots. Can the US take the initiative and place limits on marijuana use, just as it has done on alcohol?

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