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U.S. report: Mexico should focus on cops, not military

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Fri July 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The majority staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee releases a report on Mexico
  • It concludes that the focus should be on training police and judiciary
  • The report says the largely military effort has been ineffective or counterproductive

(CNN) -- Mexico's frontal assault against drug cartels has been "largely ineffective" and in some instances counterproductive to reducing violence, a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report concludes.

The report, released Thursday, was produced by the committee's majority staff ahead of a political transition in Mexico's presidency and the U.S. election, both events that could alter binational cooperation.

Going forward, a focal point of anti-drug cooperation should be training and institution-building in Mexico's police forces and judiciary, the report says.

By training police and equipping them to investigate drug-related killings, the military component of Mexico's current strategy can be scaled back, the report says.

Mexico's Nieto calls for 'new debate' on the drug war

Mexican President Felipe Calderon's term, which comes to an end in December, will be remembered for a surge in the number of troops deployed across Mexico to help combat drug cartels.

A number of high-ranking cartel figures have been arrested, but critics question if the government has achieved anything other than a reshaping of the factions fighting for control of lucrative smuggling routes.

As the market for which a majority of the illegal drugs are destined, the United States has contributed to Mexico's efforts through the Merida Initiative.

Congress has appropriated more than $1.9 billion for the initiative, which has provided helicopters and equipment, as well as training for police and judges.

The report calls for continuation of Merida funds, but says they should be aimed at helping the police and judiciary.

"Mexico's presidential transition provides a new window to discuss and debate the best security strategies to deal with the serious violence plaguing Mexico," Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry said in a written statement. "As the political landscape continues to change in both countries, this report underscores the importance of continuity in two critical areas -- judicial and police reform. Mexicans have committed to these fundamental reforms and as tough as they will be to implement they are fundamental for any sustained reduction in violence in Mexico. These are worthy efforts that must succeed."

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According to the report, which was based on interviews in Mexico with authorities from both countries, as well as experts, Mexico has so far been slow to accept training for officers.

Merida Funds for the current fiscal year will be largely directed toward capacity-building, and the report recommends that the United States continue to stress the importance of reforms.

The report recommends continuing Merida funds at $250 million a year for four more years.

Even if Mexico resorts to using the military as a stop-gap measure to combat the violence, "increased civilian police capabilities will obviate the need to deploy military personnel for domestic security purposes," the report says.

Mexico's federal police force has made strides in both size and capacity over the past several years, but reforms in state and local police departments have lagged, the report states.

The Mexican government can succeed only if it enlists the help of state and local police, the report says. It is a tall order -- corruption is most prevalent at the local and state levels, where officers are routinely on the payrolls of the various drug trafficking organizations.

Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico's presumptive president-elect, told CNN's Fareed Zakaria this week that he is open to a new debate on how to wage the war on drug trafficking, which will include a review with U.S. participation.

"What we seek now in our new strategy is to adjust what's been done up until now. It's not a radical change. It's to broaden the coverage and, above all, the emphasis I aspire to of reducing the violence in our country," Pena Nieto said.

The Senate report puts the number of drug-related deaths during Calderon's term at more than 55,000.

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