A newly released White House report on the U.S. border with Mexico highlights the Obama administration's strategic shift toward forgoing a closer working relationship with its southern neighbor.
This, despite recent restrictions by Enrique Peña Nieto's government on who American intelligence services can contact in Mexico.
The White House's 2013 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy illustrated nine points that focus on interdiction, tackling drug cartels along the border, halting money laundering, building up stronger communities and strengthening ties between the two nations in terms of counternarcotics.
“The U.S.-Mexican bilateral relationship continues to grow based on strong, multi-layered institutional ties,” the report stated. “Based on principles of shared responsibility, mutual trust, and respect for sovereign independence, the two countries’ efforts have built confidence that continues to transform and strengthen the bilateral relationship in 2013 and beyond.”
While the U.S. report touts a need for greater cooperation, new Mexican security policies could hamper that.
A recent decision by the Mexican government has ordered a halt in direct communications between American intelligence agencies and their counterparts south of the border. Now instead of directly consulting local law enforcement, agencies like the DEA and FBI will have to contact Mexico's Interior Ministry before being passed along through the proper channels.
Intelligence sharing, however, was a major talking point when President Barack Obama met with his Mexican counterpart back in May. Despite scarce details about the meeting, the two leaders discussed border security and the use of drones along the 1,954-mile shared border.
Peña Nieto downplayed the notion that the new, more centralized arrangement would damage its security partnership with the United States. He said Obama agreed during their private meeting earlier in the day to "cooperate on the basis of mutual respect" to promote an efficient and effective strategy.
"I think the U.S. government wants to make sure that Peña Nieto is on the same page as Obama, that he wants to pursue the cartels as consistently and aggressively as [former Mexican President] Calderón did during his presidency," Alex Sanchez, a security analyst at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, told ABC News.
Even as the Obama administration hopes that Peña Nieto will continue to go on the offensive against the drug cartels in Mexico, the report suggests a more humanitarian approach to the drug war. Besides counternarcotics efforts, a solid portion of the report concerns community building measures along the border, ways to deal with substance abuse and violence, as well as health and education programs.
“The crime and breakdown in public health and safety that affect many border communities has a close nexus with substance use —including abuse of alcohol and other drugs— can have a far-reaching effect on the resilience of communities,” the report stated. “Heavily Hispanic communities along the border have been particularly hard hit.”
The report’s focus on community building seems to go along with Peña Nieto’s strategy in combating the drug war.
Instead of the “kingpin” approach that his predecessor Felipe Calderón took, which focused on apprehending or killing high-ranking cartel members, Peña Nieto has moved to a plan to reduce the levels of violence in the country and bolster trust of law enforcement among the populace.
The report has some analysts hopeful that there will be better working relations between the U.S. and Mexico, especially in light of the new rules concerning U.S. intelligence agencies.
“The election of Peña Nieto sparked vocal concerns among U.S. political leaders over his stated desire to move priorities away from arrests and drug seizures, and towards violence reduction, and there have also been reports of tensions between the incoming government and U.S. officials over the level of U.S. involvement in Mexican security policies,” the Latin American intelligence website Insight Crime stated. “However, the U.S. strategy displays no sign of this friction, only expressing a desire to increase cooperation, which despite the public murmuring is likely to be the case.”