Mexico's Drug-Related Violence
Drug-related violence in Mexico has spiked in recent years as drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) have competed for control of smuggling routes into the United States. Drug trafficking issues are prominent in Mexico because the country has for at least four decades been among the most important producers and suppliers of heroin, marijuana and (later) methamphetamine to the U.S. market. Today it is the leading source of all three drugs and is now the leading transit country for cocaine coming from South America to the United States. Although previous Mexican governments had accommodated some drug trafficking in the country, when President Felipe Calderón came into office in December 2006 he made battling the Mexican drug trafficking organizations a top priority. He has raised spending on security and sent thousands of troops and federal police to combat the DTOs in states along the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the country. In response to the government's crackdown, the DTOs have responded with escalating violence. In recent years, drug trafficking violence in Mexico has claimed thousands of lives and reached a level of intensity and ferocity that has exceeded previous periods of drug-related violence. The government's intensified campaign against the DTOs resulted in changes in the structure of these criminal organizations. The seven major DTOs in Mexico have reconfigured. The fracturing of some of the most powerful drug trafficking syndicates and the reemergence of once powerful DTOs have led to bloody conflict within and among the DTOs. Today a small number of DTOs control the lucrative drug trafficking corridors through which drugs flow north from Mexico into the United States and high-powered firearms and cash flow south fueling the narcotics trade. President Calderón has demonstrated what has been characterized as an unprecedented willingness to cooperate with the United States on counterdrug measures. In October 2007, both countries announced the Mérida Initiative to combat drug trafficking, gangs and organized crime in Mexico and Central America. To date, the U.S. Congress has appropriated a total of $700 million for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative. The program, which combines counternarcotics equipment and training with rule of law and justice reform efforts, is still in its initial stages of implementation. The scope of the drug violence and its location--much of it in northern Mexico near the U.S.-Mexico border--has been the subject of intense interest in Congress. The 111th Congress has held more than a dozen hearings dealing with the increased violence in Mexico as well as U.S. foreign assistance and border security efforts. This report examines the causes for the escalation of the violence in Mexico. It provides a brief overview of Mexico's counterdrug efforts, a description of the major DTOs, the causes and trends in the violence, the Calderón government's efforts to crackdown on the DTOs, and the objectives and implementation of the Mérida Initiative as a response to the violence in Mexico. For related information about Mexico and the Mérida Initiative, see CRS Report RL32724, Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress, and CRS Report R40135, Mérida Initiative for Mexico and Central America: Funding and Policy Issues. For more information on international drug policy, see CRS Report RL34543, International Drug Control Policy. This report will be updated as events warrant.
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