US, Colombia, Mexico pledge security cooperation

December 27, 2017

Latin News

There is a perceived and ongoing risk that US President Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and policies on trade, immigration and crime could undermine existing levels of security cooperation in Latin America. For the moment, a number of key players are avoiding that negative ‘spill-over effect’. In December, the attorney generals of the US, Colombia, and Mexico met in Cartagena, Colombia and pledged to work together against organised crime, drug trafficking, money laundering, and corruption.

The Cartagena meeting was billed as the Trilateral Summit on Transnational Organised Crime. The three attorney generals attended: Jeff Sessions of the United States, Néstor Humberto Martínez of Colombia, and Alberto Elías Beltrán of Mexico. These three countries each play a critical role in global drug trafficking and associated criminal activities. Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine; Mexico is a major drug-trafficking route into the US; and the United States is one of the world’s largest consumers of illicit drugs. At the meeting the three countries said they would share more information and intensify their joint actions against transnational crime. Martínez, the Colombian attorney general, said, “Our three countries are planning to develop and share strategies to fight and dismantle organised crime structures, to successfully meet the multiple challenges posed by transnational crime.”

The current Colombian and Mexican authorities have decided to maintain a cooperative stance despite concerns over President Trump’s rhetoric. Mexican objections to Trump’s statements on building a border wall, deporting Mexican workers, and renegotiating or terminating the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) are well known. There has been less bad feeling between the Colombian and US governments, but Trump did threaten earlier this year to decertify Colombia as a US partner in the battle against drugs if it failed to reverse the recent sharp increase in coca cultivation.

The official statement at the end of the meeting highlighted five main actions. The three countries committed to streamline information sharing, using “law enforcement channels of information wherever possible”. They would prioritise the interdiction of shipments of narcotics; follow investigative strategies “to more effectively dismantle transnational criminal organisations”; share information on best investigative and prosecutorial strategies; and lastly, build capacity and training for investigators and prosecutors “with a particular focus on organised crime, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, asset forfeiture, and public corruption”.

The pledge to cooperate comes despite continuing tensions over the best way to respond to organised crime and drug trafficking. Although they have for years followed a substantially militarised strategy against drug production and trafficking, both Colombia and Mexico are aware of its shortcomings. In large part Mexico’s future strategy will depend on the outcome of next year’s presidential elections. Elections are also due in Colombia, where action against criminal groups is seen in the wider context of the country’s peace settlement with rebel forces.

Bilateral summit

A bilateral Mexico-US Security summit was also expected in December. Foreign minister Luis Videgaray confirmed it would be held after a trip to Washington early in the month. This would be the second of a cycle of six-monthly bilateral meetings – the first was held in May this year. Videgaray said he had talked with US officials about increasing the effectiveness of security cooperation between the two countries. During his early-December visit Videgaray met White House chief of staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner.

Contributor Biography

Latin American Newsletters (LatinNews) was founded in London in 1967 to provide expert political, economic, and security analysis on Latin America and the Caribbean. For nearly 50 years, it has been acknowledged as the foremost authority on the region.

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