HomeNewsAnalysisMexico, Colombia Meetings Show US Security Policy on Unsure Footing

Mexico, Colombia Meetings Show US Security Policy on Unsure Footing


A recent visit by top US officials to Mexico and a meeting between the presidents of Colombia and the United States in Washington, DC have provided further evidence that the US security strategy in Latin America under the new administration has yet to find its footing.

On May 18, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly met with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray Caso and Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong to discuss future collaboration against organized crime and drug trafficking.

The officials recognized the need to tackle the drug trade on both sides of their shared border, and for the United States to focus more heavily on reducing drug consumption within the country.

The United States "must also confront the reality that we are the market," Tillerson said.

"But for the seemingly endless demand by addicted users and the successful recruitment of young and vulnerable new users, there would be no market ... We Americans must own this problem. It is ours," he added.

However, Tillerson did not propose a domestic addiction treatment strategy. Rather, he proceeded to affirm that tackling drug violence and consumption required "stopping the cross-border flow of drugs" and "aggressively confronting the cartels operating in the United States and Mexico."

He also said that the two parties had "identified fresh strategies to attack the business model of these multi-billion dollar criminal organizations with particular emphasis on cash flow and the flow of weapons."

Mexico's Videgaray echoed Tillerson's point about shared responsibilities, stating, "We need to overcome the blame game … The time has come for us to dare think in a different way."

However, Videgaray noted that the meeting did not conclude with any new agreements or strategies, but rather with "an understanding that we need to tackle jointly all of the elements" in the criminal chain, from production to demand.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Yet even as the top US officials took this seemingly progressive stance with their Mexican counterparts, a different anti-drug rhetoric was emanating from the White House that same day.

We Americans must own this problem. It is ours - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

At a joint press conference between US President Donald Trump and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Trump explicitly called on the South American nation to target the production aspect of the cocaine trade, without any mention of US domestic efforts to curb drug addiction.

"Recently, we have seen an alarmed -- and I mean really a very highly alarmed and alarming trend. Last year, Colombia coca cultivation and cocaine production reached a record high, which, hopefully, will be remedied very quickly by the President," Trump said, referring to Santos.

Trump seemed to belie his lack of familiarity with the details of this issue by repeatedly referring during the meeting to Colombia's production of "cocoa" -- the plant from which chocolate is made -- rather than the cocaine-producing coca plant, both of which are grown in large quantities in Colombia.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

In addition to pledging US support to Colombia in its efforts to undercut cocaine production, Trump once again assured that expanding the wall along the US-Mexico border would help fight "the drug epidemic poisoning too many American lives."

For his part, Santos highlighted the importance of bilateral cooperation and also mentioned the role of drug demand in driving organized crime.

"We are working with your administration to take advantage of the unique opportunity peace offers so as to reduce permanently the production of coca leaf in Colombia and fight more effectively the other links in drug trafficking, including consumption," Santos said, making reference to the peace deal his government signed in November 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).

(Courtesy of the White House)

InSight Crime Analysis

The seemingly contradictory messages presented by Trump and his top cabinet officials suggest that the new administration has yet to chart a clear course on how to tackle problems of organized crime and drug trafficking in Latin America.

While Tillerson's comments in Mexico seem to acknowledge the reality that US demand for substances like cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine drives much of the corruption and violence associated with organized crime in the region, the administration's policy proposals could actually exacerbate this problem.

Trump's proposal for reforming the country's healthcare system could negatively impact the estimated 2.8 million Americans with a substance use disorder -- 222,000 opioid-related -- who rely on government assistance under a healthcare law passed under the previous administration. The new healthcare bill, already approved by the lower house of Congress, gives states the option to not make drug addiction treatment mandatory for insurance providers to cover, sparking fears that the move could exacerbate the already deadly US opioid epidemic.

The new administration's dedication to treating drug abuse has also been called into question by Attorney General Jeff Sessions' reported intention to stiffen guidelines for prosecuting drug offenders. Critics say that this approach could actually be more costly and less effective at reducing drug demand than providing greater resources for addiction treatment, an approach that surveys show most Americans support.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

While Trump did not mention US demand reduction in his public comments, he did pledge support for Colombia's drug interdiction and eradication efforts, just as the US officials in Mexico advocated "stopping the cross-border flow of drugs" and "aggressively confronting the cartels."

However, years of US bilateral cooperation with Mexico and Colombia in the "war on drugs" have not obtained the desired results. Heroin production is rising in Mexico, generating violent conflict between crime groups for control of the lucrative illicit trade. Recent reports also suggest that methamphetamine production in Mexico may be ramping up, perhaps in response to growing US demand for the drug.

Similarly, Colombia is producing more cocaine than ever, a development that is feeding growing consumption markets in the United States and Latin America, as well as fueling clashes between crime groups scrambling to fill the criminal vaccuum left by the demobilizing FARC.

Tillerson's comments about placing "particular emphasis on cash flow and the flow of weapons" are encouraging, as substantial evidence suggests that the United States could do more to stop illicit financial activities and cross-border arms trafficking.

But as noted above, the Trump administration has not presented concrete proposals for how to accomplish these objectives. And the signs so far seem to suggest that US policies regarding drugs and crime in Latin America will continue to follow an enforcement-centric approach to these issues, despite the rhetorical nods toward more progressive strategies.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

MEXICO / 16 JUL 2022

Rafael Caro Quintero, Mexican drug lord and erstwhile head of the defunct Guadalajara Cartel, has been apprehended by Mexican authorities.


Colombian guerrillas evolved from seeing Venezuela as a safe place to retreat to seeing it as a full-blown expansion of…


A new investigation has identified Mexico as a major contributor to a global seahorse trafficking network centered around China but…

About InSight Crime


‘Ndrangheta Investigation, Exclusive Interview With Suriname President Make Waves

2 DEC 2022

Two weeks ago, InSight Crime published an investigation into how Italian mafia clan the ‘Ndrangheta built a cocaine trafficking network from South America to ‘Ndrangheta-controlled Italian ports. The investigation generated…


Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…


Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…


Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…


Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…