US/Mexico Bi-National Cooperation Against Illicit Drugs, Main Results and Performance Measures of Effectiveness (1995-2000)

3. Main Results of the 1995-2000 Bilateral Cooperation

The governments of the United States and Mexico will have much to build upon as a result of the sustained collaborative relationship between both countries. Overall, the comprehensive bilateral cooperation policy to control the supply and demand for drugs has resulted in an improved understanding regarding the problems and challenges each country faces

More specifically, efficient mechanisms for collaboration were developed which ensured measurable results in combating the use and abuse of illicit of drugs, drug trafficking, and drug-related crimes. Specific actions were taken in such areas as data collection, collaborative research, treatment protocols, prevention interventions, arrests and sentencing of members of organized crime groups, and interdiction of drugs, weapons, and chemical precursors. These efforts demonstrated the importance of a balanced approach to drug control, targeting both the demand and supply aspects of drug abuse.

Bilateral cooperation and consultation on counternarcotics and other law enforcement matters have been actively and effectively pursued during the period of the Zedillo and Clinton Administrations pursuant to the wide variety of agreements and arrangements between Mexico and the United States designed to facilitate joint efforts against crime, including the Treaty on Extradition, the Treaty on Cooperation in Mutual Legal Assistance, the Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement, the Tax Information Exchange Agreement, the Financial Information Exchange Agreement, and the more recently-signed Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation in Law Enforcement Activities and Memorandum of Understanding on Currency and Monetary Instruments Reports.

Reduction in the Demand of Illicit Drugs

In 1996, the HLCG established the Demand Reduction Working Group. The Group represents the first institutionalized mechanism for bilateral collaboration on drug demand reduction, focusing on all aspects of demand including, prevention, research, data collection, treatment and public education and awareness.

The Demand Reduction Working Group concentrated its activities from 1996-2000 on the exchange of information, treatment protocols, and experiences, joint training initiatives, collaborative data collection efforts through studies and polls, and a special focus on border communities.

The Group agreed that effective demand reduction involves every level of government and society, all major organizations, schools, families, and the communities. Efforts were undertaken to bring experts from both countries together to share knowledge and experiences through conferences, joint Web sites, training, knowledge resources, and symposiums.

Three successful Binational Conferences on the Reduction of Drug Demand (El Paso, Texas, 1998; Tijuana, Baja California, 1999; Phoenix, Arizona, 2000) were organized, bringing together an average of 350 experts and community leaders from both countries for each of the three years. These conferences enhanced knowledge on science-based prevention and treatment, increased informal communications between both countries by facilitating the creation of contact networks between civil groups, coordinated a sharing of perspectives and planning exercises between both nations' youth, broadened the research agenda, provided training opportunities to build understanding of intervention protocols, and brought together the public health and public safety systems. At the most recent conference in Phoenix, intensive training sessions were provided on specific issues in substance abuse treatment and prevention, and on ways the public health and public safety/criminal justice systems can work together to address substance abuse problems. For example, in the area of treatment, a two-day training on all aspects of opiate treatment was held, and a session was held on "engagement, retention and relapse prevention" in the criminal justice system. Plenary sessions provided overviews of each of these areas, and focused on the crosscutting issues of evaluation and youth with regard to these issues.

As part of the effort to provide linkages between experts in both countries, the research work groups from the three binational conferences met at a Research Symposium in May 2000 to define potential collaborative research projects, including perception of risk in relation to drug abuse prevalence; program evaluation; HIV prevention interventions for drug abusers; rapid assessment, response, and evaluation; adolescent drug use; violence and HIV; gender differences, family influences, women, and social and cultural factors; patient-treatment matching; and cooperation in the basic science of drug abuse.

To improve collaboration on research and harmonize data sets, the United States worked with and supported Mexico in the development of a National Household Survey on Drug Abuse comparable to a similar survey already underway in the United States, from which both countries will be able to compare data and study drug abuse trends.

The Group identified publications for sharing between both countries. For example, the Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide developed in the United States has been translated and adapted for use in Mexico. Further, the Treatment Improvement Protocols (TIP) Series for Primary Care Providers, developed in the United States, was translated and adjusted by officials in Mexico for use in Mexican communities and is now being distributed to Spanish-speaking communities within the United States. Developed by Spanish-speaking communities in the United States, the Hablemos En Confianza Community Initiative is being explored for use in Mexico as well. Mexico edited a book entitled Drug Use in Mexico, Diagnosis, Trends, and Actions that was printed and translated into English the Spanish edition two months after that. Mexican experts participated in reviewing the translation of ONDCP´s prevention Web site targeted to Spanish speaking Communities.

A bi-national cooperative electronic communications system to facilitate cooperation on joint projects was developed to further facilitate the exchange of information. The core of this system is the binational and bilingual Web site, which will include such information as PMEs, research training opportunities, upcoming meetings on drug demand to learn from one another, and a method for routine communication among binational conference participants.

A U.S./Mexico Border Center for the Application of Prevention Technology (CAPT) was created in the United States to serve the 60-mile region North of the U.S.-Mexico border in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The CAPT convened federal representatives from both countries to provide an opportunity for the sharing of ideas and resources between the two countries. These binational experts are now reviewing Mexican model programs for potential implementation in the U.S. border communities.

Finally, the Demand Reduction Working Group provided leadership in the creation of a Substance Abuse Core Group (SACG), as part of the Health Working Group of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission. Viewed as a method to ensure a public health approach to demand reduction linked to the HLCG, the SACG met as a whole in May 2000 to explore group member interests, create a vision for the future of the core group for the next Administrations, and assess past accomplishments in order to set a future agenda. The SACG discussed such key topics as violence and substance abuse, the relationship to risky sexual behavior and HIV/AIDS, the importance of addressing alcohol within the substance abuse context, linking with other co-occurring factors such as mental illness, and the importance of working within the family, schools, and communities to have an impact. Members of the group expressed interest in addressing substance abuse within the context of "healthy lifestyles" and the importance of identifying those most at-risk.

In both countries, the effort to reduce drug abuse is comprehensive and concerted at all levels of government, as well as by non-government organizations, the private sector, and individual citizens. The goal in the U.S. is to cut today's drug use in half—to 3.1 percent of the population—by the year 2007. Thus, the federal budget for demand reduction has increased since 1996 to over $6 billion. A 5-year $2 billion media campaign has been launched and funding for community drug prevention coalitions now supports 213 coalitions in 46 states.

The Government of Mexico has strengthened the National Council on Addictions (CONADIC), to improve the response to addiction problems. The Council will be presided by the National Commissioner, with ample authority and rights for facilitating effective decisions taken by CONADIC. The goals for Mexico are: containing the illicit drug use increase for year 2005 (this means maintaining the prevalence once in a lifetime to 5.27% according to the 1998 National Household Survey); reduce illegal drug use among youth by one percent by year 2010 (this means reducing 1% prevalence use once in a lifetime).

Eradication of illicit crops

Illicit drug crops affect U.S. and Mexican territory. Although the problems of drug production in both countries are different, in the past few years, collaboration on this matter has received a major boost, particularly in the field of technical exchange and the development of scientific research projects relating to the control of illicit crops.

Mexico is world-leader in the eradication of illicit crops (poppy and marijuana). As a result of the agreement of efforts between the Office of the Attorney General of Mexico (Procuraduría General de la República–PGR) and the Secretariat of National Defense (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional–SEDENA), Secretariat of Navy (SEMAR) from 1995 to 1999, Mexico has eradicated over 125,000 hectares of marijuana and over 80,500 hectares of poppy. Additionally, in the first six months of 2000, 9,700 hectares of marijuana and 8,800 hectares of poppy have been eradicated. A daily average of 25,000 SEDENA soldiers and 2,625 SEMAR sailors participate in the crop eradication programs. In the last five years the Government of Mexico has strengthened programs aimed at the reduction of illegal crops. During Operation Libélula and Directiva Azteca, PGR and SEDENA increased their reconnaissance, locating and eradication efforts. The institutional capacity is also augmented by an increase in eradication personnel and equipment.

Marijuana eradication in the United States is carried out mainly by state and local authorities. At the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Administration operates the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, which is a grant program offered to State and local law enforcement for marijuana eradication. In each of the last three years, DEA has increased the number of eradication grants authorized. In 2000, funding was up to $13 million. From 1997 to 1999 the Cannabis Eradication Program eliminated 9.4 million cultivated plants and over 650,000 indoor plants. The program resulted in seizure of approximately $95 million is assets.

The cooperation has allowed for a regular exchange of information on the efforts, experiences and eradication techniques from each country. Useful strategic information exchange in the development of eradication campaigns and programs has increased. In addition, an exchange by both governments to improve the mutual understanding of the methodology used by each country to calculate crop areas and eradicated areas has been performed. Regarding scientific cooperation, research projects focused on supporting the efforts of poppy crop eradication have been initiated.

Combating Criminal Organizations

Over the last five years, the law enforcement agencies in both countries DEA, FBI, Customs, DOJ, PGR, FEADS have established specific collaboration mechanisms for the development and exchange of intelligence; the development of coordinated investigations; the attack on organizations and the arrest of its members; and collaboration in prosecuting criminal cases. Cooperation and consultation among the PGR, DOJ, DEA, FBI, and the U.S. Customs Service have produced results in combating transnational criminal organizations.

Stemming from the HLCG and the consolidation of the work by the Plenary Group of Senior Law Enforcement Officials, authorities from both countries have been able to develop effective and secure mechanisms to obtain and share information regarding transnational criminal organizations operating in both countries, as well as their members. The exchange of information between high-level officials, as well as the liaison mechanisms among Mexican and U.S. units that have served to plan and execute strategies for coordinated investigation, can be highlighted.

Bilateral cooperation efforts on law enforcement have allowed for important progress to be obtained in order to prosecute and convict criminals operating on both sides of the shared border. The procedures regarding mutual legal assistance have become an important tool in the bilateral fight against criminal organizations. In this context, the adoption of the Federal Law against Organized Crime (Ley Federal Contra la Delincuencia Organizada) by Mexico has facilitated the exchange of evidence—a product of new investigation technologies—such as, for instance, the exchange of depositions by protected witnesses, in a request for legal assistance.

Over the last five years, the control and command structures of three of the four main transnational organizations operating on both sides of the border have been affected. The arrest in Mexico of Luis Amezcua and Jesús Amezcua, methamphetamine producers and traffickers; the arrests of collaborators of Amado Carrillo Fuentes and of the Arellano Felix organizations; in addition to the arrest of Juan García Abrego. Many drug distribution organizations, operating in the U.S. have been dismantled, each year.

An example of the cooperation regarding the exchange of information was Operation Impunity. Moreover, Operations Reciprocity, Southwest Express, and Meta, achieved the arrest and prosecution of individuals charged in multi-jurisdictional drug-trafficking crimes related with criminal organizations, the seizure of many millions of dollars in cash and assets, as well as several tons of cocaine.

Extradition of Fugitives

Bilateral cooperation under the Mexico–U.S. Extradition Treaty has registered notable progress in the last six years. The work performed by the authorities from both countries in the Mexico–U.S. Senior Law Enforcement Plenary has allowed for the increase in mutual understanding of each country's legal system and has streamlined the procedures to process extradition requests. The great progress is reflected in the following figures: in the first 15 years after the Extradition Treaty (1980–1994) came into force, Mexico extradited a total of eight people to the United States. In the same period, the United States delivered to Mexico a total of 30 people requested in extradition. In the 1995–2000 period, Mexico extradited a total of 61 people to the United States, i.e. in five years; the number of people delivered compared with the previous 15 years grew seven-fold. Between 1995 and 2000, the United States starting from a higher base number, tripled the number of extradited people, with a total of 86 individuals delivered.

During the 1995-2000 time period the Government of Mexico decided that in exceptional circumstances it would grant the extradition of Mexican nationals to be prosecuted wherever the events with which they are charged occurred. Over the last five years, Mexico has delivered 11 Mexican nationals (8 by birth and 3 by naturalization). The United States has always extradited its nationals in appropriate circumstances and during the same time period, the United States extradited 12 US citizens to Mexico.

Mutual Legal Assistance

Bilateral cooperation regarding mutual legal assistance is based on the Mexico–U.S. Cooperation Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance. Legal assistance is a fundamental tool in order to combat organized crime.

Within the framework of the Mexico–U.S. Senior Law Enforcement Plenary, the Offices of the Attorneys General from both countries have fostered a greater collaboration in the field of legal assistance.

As a result of these actions, the processes for mutual legal assistance have been streamlined and focused and are an important mechanism for exchanging evidence needed in drug prosecutions. Due to the great increase in the use of the MLAT in the last 5 years, a much-needed program of prioritization of requests has been undertaken to make implementation of the treaty even more effective.

Illicit Trafficking of Firearms

For the first time in the field of bilateral cooperation, a formal mechanism in order to combat the illicit trafficking of firearms and ammunition through the shared border has been achieved. The collaboration in this field has attained greater efficiency since 1996, and has fostered multilateral collaboration initiatives.

The HLCG's Group of Experts on Illicit Trafficking of Firearms has developed programs to exchange information to track seized weapons and to conduct investigations against alleged transborder traffickers. The group has significantly improved coordination on the tracing of firearms and ammunition illicitly trafficked across the common border and on training programs for Mexican personnel.

The progress made in tracing illicit firearms should be highlighted. There has been a notable increase in the number of requests with complete and correct information, causing an accompanying increase in the number of responses with substantive information leading to specific lines of investigation. There has been a reciprocal exchange of tactical information, and specific consultations can be made through the institutional databases available for that purpose.

Furthermore, it must be pointed that both governments supported the approval, in November 1997, within the framework of the OAS, of the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and other Related Materials, which constituted the first instrument of multilateral cooperation in the world to eliminate the trafficking of illicit weapons from which, among others, drug traffickers benefit.

Control of chemical precursors and essential chemical substances

Bilateral cooperation regarding the prevention of diversion of precursor and essential chemicals has strengthened considerably and has been conducted in three specific areas: the exchange of information to prevent diversion, the development of the investigations against individuals and organizations dedicated to the diversion; and the development of technical cooperation programs.

The Mexican system of chemical control, and Mexico's capacity to cooperate in international chemical control initiatives, was enhanced with the implementation of the Federal Law for the Control of Chemical Precursors, Essential Chemical Substances and Machinery to Manufacture Tablets, Capsules and/or Pills (Ley Federal para el Control de Precursores Químicos, Productos Químicos Esenciales y Máquinas para Elaborar Tabletas, Cápsulas y/o Comprimidos) of December 1997. This law, encompasses the commitments assumed in the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Vienna, 1988) and it incorporates the recommendations of the Model Regulations of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (Comisión Interamericana para el Control del Abuso de Drogas—CICAD/OAS) on this matter.

The United States passed comprehensive chemical control legislation in 1988 through the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act of 1988. That law has been amended frequently since its initial passage, in response to countermeasures taken by traffickers and the "rogue" chemical firms that serve them. The U.S. has in place and makes use of criminal, civil and administrative sanctions for violators.

Currently, the two countries are in the final stages of negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding to give a more formal shape to what is hoped will be an even stronger formal and informal cooperative relationship in chemical control in the future.

Combating Money Laundering

Since 1996, bilateral cooperation on this matter has been greatly improved within the framework of the HLCG's Group of Experts on Money Laundering. This cooperation has been manifested through, among other things, the exchange and sharing of information contained in Currency Transaction Reports (CTR's) and Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR's); from simultaneous investigations in accordance with the Financial Information Exchange Agreement (FIEA); and through coordinated investigations in accordance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). The United States has a history of money laundering prosecutions and is a world leader in this regard, winning hundreds of convictions every year. The results of these coordinated investigations have led to the increase in the number of money laundering trials in both countries.

In order to improve our efforts to track the source of the money, in January 2000, the Secretariat of the Treasury and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público—SHCP) and the Department of the Treasury signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Currency and Monetary Instruments Reports (CMR's). This agreement establishes mechanisms for the reciprocal exchange of information in this field. Additionally, the recent admission of Mexico to the OECD's Financial Action Task Force (FATF), as a full-fledged member, and to the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), as a cooperating and supporting nation, will tend to strengthen bilateral cooperation within the framework of these multilateral fora.

Sharing confiscated assets

The collaboration between Mexico and the United States regarding seizure and forfeiture of assets stemming from drug trafficking and drug-related crimes, responds to the mutual conviction that the best way to combat drug-trafficking organizations is to deprive them of illicit-activities earnings, of the front businesses which conceal their true activities, and their infrastructure.

In 1995, both countries signed an Agreement for the Sharing of Forfeited Drug-Trafficking and Drug Crime-Related Assets, which allows the United States to share assets forfeited in criminal or civil proceedings in such a manner that the amount of the shared funds is commensurate with the level of assistance provided by the Mexican agencies in the investigation and the forfeiture. Pursuant to this agreement, the Unites States has shared over $6 million with Mexico.

As of the entry into effect of the Federal Law for the Administration of Seized, Confiscated and Abandoned Assets (Ley Federal para la Administración de Bienes Asegurados, Decomisados y Abandonados) (August 1999), Mexico possesses the necessary legal basis to share seized assets or the product of their sale with foreign authorities. Thus, the U.S. and Mexico are currently negotiating an Agreement for the Reciprocal Sharing of Seized Assets (Acuerdo de Compartimento Recíproco de Bienes Decomisados), which will supersede the 1995 Agreement.


Stemming from the Bilateral Strategy, the collaboration between Mexican and U.S. agencies to detect and intercept the illicit trafficking of drugs has increased. In particular, the liaison and information exchange systems among agencies from both countries, regarding air, land and maritime interdiction of drugs, have been strengthened. Currently, Mexico and the United States share useful strategic information to plan operations. Furthermore, the operational coordination between agencies from both countries has improved. These mechanisms have been an important factor, not only to increase drug seizures, but also to deter the international trafficking of drugs in some regions.

Since 1998, the transmission of information among the coordination and communication centers of both countries has improved, allowing authorities to respond as required to interdict illicit shipments. The systems used to link both nations' agencies enable real-time, secure-data electronic transmission.

To improve the permanent mechanism of information exchange, liaison offices have been established for the PGR at the Air and Maritime Interdiction Coordination Center (Centro de Coordinación para la Intercepción Aérea y Marítima) of the U.S. Customs Service, located in Riverside, California. In the immediate future, liaison offices for the PGR will be established with the Joint Interagency Task Force-East (JIATF-E) and Joint Interagency Task Force—West (JIATF-W), in charge of coordinating the U.S. interdiction agencies in the Caribbean and the Pacific, respectively.

Through regular consultations, Mexican and U.S. authorities (PGR, Mexican Secretariat of the Navy, Mexican Secretariat of National Defense, Mexican Secretariat of the Interior, Department of Justice, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs, JIATF-E, and JIATF-W) have increased their coordination regarding interdiction actions. In this sense, the bilateral coordination has been strengthened with the creation, in June 2000, of the Mexico-U.S. Bilateral Cooperation Group for Matters of Drug Interception. This forum meets on a regular basis to exchange and discuss tactical information in order to increase the effectiveness of the interdiction efforts of both countries.

The aforementioned mechanisms have enabled important results attained in combating air and maritime drug trafficking. Concerning air drug trafficking, the bilateral collaboration has contributed to practically eliminate cocaine trafficking on flights originating from South America directly to Mexico. The above represents a significant strategic result because this method of trafficking was widely used by criminal organizations to traffic cocaine destined for the United States in the early 90s. From 1998 to date, the Government of Mexico has reported that, there have only been two illicit air incursions directly into Mexican air space. In both cases, the aircraft and the shipment were seized and the crew was arrested.

In 1998, the Mexican Government strengthened its detection systems and redefined the approach of its air, land and maritime interdiction strategies. In this sense, the actions to implement Operation Sellamiento (Sealing the Border) in the Baja California and Yucatán peninsulas must be underscored. These actions, performed in 1999, extended northwards to the border and the Gulf of California. For these operations, the Government of Mexico purchased state-of-the-art detection equipment, which included five Mobile Search systems, 21 Secure 1000 systems and 31 Buster systems. Likewise, intensive interdiction operations along the Tehuantepec Isthmus took place, to seal off the land and air trafficking routes in Mexican territory.

In 1999, the Government of Mexico made public its initiative to strengthen to Drug Control General Strategy (Refuerzo a la Estrategia General para el Control de Drogas). The purpose of this document is to strengthen the existing programs, improve training programs, and reinforce the coordination among the Mexican agencies and institutions responsible in combating drug trafficking. This program, representing a three-year budget close to US$500 million, has begun to provide important results. The GOM reports that in 1999 alone, 34.6 tons of cocaine; 1,472 tons of marijuana, 801.2 kg of opium gum and 260.2 kg of heroine have been seized. Moreover, during the first semester of 2000, 15. 5 tons of cocaine; 1,014.9 tons of marijuana; 149.8 kg of opium gum and 203.7 kg. of heroin have been seized.

The problem of methamphetamine production and trafficking affects both countries. In the US methamphetamine laboratory destruction is carried out by federal as well as state and local law enforcement. In 1999 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized 2,025 methamphetamine labs while state and local police seized over 5,000. The number of DEA methamphetamine laboratory seizures has increased constantly and sharply for each of the last six years, from 263 in 1994 to over 2,000 in 1999. Methamphetamine trafficking has spread from its traditional area of concentration in the western United States to the Midwest and to a lesser extent the southeastern United States.

Finally, the Government of Mexico underlines that, according to its experience, the four elements to combat this transnational crime and to attack its principal consequences efficiently are:

a) Generation and targeted use of specialized intelligence.
b) Acquisition of appropriate equipment and its use at the strategic, tactic and operative levels.
c) Effective coordination between the responsible national agencies and organizations directly or indirectly involved in combating drug trafficking (integral supply and demand reduction).
d) A frank, open and respectful cooperation with all multinational organizations and countries that have an interest in the development of a common front against the effects of international drug trafficking and abuse, with special attention within our hemisphere.


Mexico and the United States have recognized that the professionalization and specialization of officials in the different areas of drug control are fundamental to achieving better results. This is why both countries have created extensive bilateral cooperation in the design of technical cooperation and training programs regarding money laundering, the illicit trafficking of weapons, chemical control, and law enforcement.

The collaboration has been especially broad in the field of law enforcement. In compliance with the Brownsville Letter agreements, three Binational Training Seminars (Columbia, South Carolina, 1998; Mexico City, 1999; and San Diego, California, 2000) have been held, where prosecutors and police officers from both countries participated. These seminars—the first of their kind—were simultaneous training events of law enforcement officials from both countries.

The Seminars are focused on seeking the similarities and differences of the Mexican and U.S. legal systems regarding several matters, such as investigation techniques, combating organized crime, legal wire-tapping, as well as the seizure and forfeiture of assets, among others. These Seminars helped identify areas where the legal cooperation between both parties can be substantially improved, in strict compliance with each country's laws.

Multilateral cooperation

The consumption of drugs and drug trafficking are a global challenge, with special characteristics in the American Hemisphere. Thus, multilateral cooperation, at sub-regional, regional and international levels complements national plans to control drugs. Over the past five years, the United States and Mexico have encouraged international organizations to adopt international instruments to promote the reduction of demand for illicit drugs, and strengthen the fight against money laundering, the diversion of chemical precursors, the illicit trafficking of weapons and organized crime.

Specific examples of this collaboration are the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (June 1998) and, within the framework of the OAS' Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, the adoption of the Hemispheric Anti-Drug Strategy, as well as the establishment of the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), which constitutes the first multilateral assessment system on the efforts and achievements of each country against drug trafficking and drug abuse.