US, Mexico seek to revamp fight against drug cartels

MEXICO CITY (AFP) – The United States and Mexico are set to discuss an overhaul of their joint fight against drug cartels during a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said Mexico no longer wants helicopter gunships and other weapons to combat drug traffickers, urging the United States to invest in regional economic development instead.

Ahead of Blinken s visit, his first to Mexico as the top US diplomat, Washington indicated that it was ready to revamp a 13-year-old program called the Merida Initiative that provided US military firepower, technical support and security training.

“We believe we are due for an updated look at our bilateral security cooperation,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

He said Washington wanted to see the “significant gains” made by the Merida Initiative “preserved, that that cooperation is deepened and that we have an updated approach that accounts for the threats of today.”

The Mexican government has gone further, calling for an end to the Merida Initiative.

“We don t want it to be like it was before when they brought us a helicopter gunship and a photo was taken of the US ambassador with the president,” Lopez Obrador said in June.

He argues that investing in development projects in the region would help counter not only drug trafficking but also migrant flows — another major challenge facing the two countries.

Under the Merida Initiative, the United States has given Mexico about $3 billion since 2008 for law enforcement training and equipment such as Black Hawk helicopters.

At the same time, US authorities have focused on helping Mexico to arrest drug kingpins like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and send them to the United States to face trial.