Overview: Counterterrorism cooperation between Mexico and the United States remained strong in 2017. Improved information sharing regarding migrant populations constituted a major step forward. At year's end there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States. The U.S. southern border remains vulnerable to potential terrorist transit, although terrorist groups likely seek other means of trying to enter the United States.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no changes since 2016 in Mexico's legal system as it pertains to counterterrorism, other than those described under the terrorist financing section.
Mexico's southern border is porous. Under the Merida Initiative, the Mexican and U.S. governments launched several projects designed to increase border security, including the first stages of construction of a telecommunications system for law enforcement and mentoring and training for immigration officials. The two governments also collaborate to improve airport security at last departure point airports to the United States. The United States partnered with Mexico to create an information-sharing system for Mexico that will vastly improve Mexico's ability to partner with U.S. law enforcement to prevent terrorism and other illegal activity.
Challenges for law enforcement and border security include corruption and insufficient inter-agency communication. Also, many prosecutors and judges have not yet mastered navigation of the new criminal justice system. Improvements in nation-wide police professionalization are occurring through the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs' program to assess, train, certify, and accredit police officers and institutions at state and federal levels. These efforts aim to improve the likelihood of criminal prosecutions and convictions. Mexican migration officials' resources were stretched thin and funding for repatriations by air was severely limited.
The Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance training included two iterations of Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, which focused on securing physical and cyber critical infrastructures against the threats of terrorism and natural disasters. The trainings additionally demonstrated methods of building proactive community partnerships, recognizing pre-attack indications through surveillance detection, and understanding the physical effects of explosives.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Mexico is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and the Financial Action Task force of Latin America, a FATF-style regional body (FSRB). Mexico has observer or cooperating status in FSRBs: the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force and the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures. Mexico's financial intelligence unit (FIU), Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, is a member of the Egmont Group and proactively shares financial intelligence on shared threats with its U.S. counterpart, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
Mexico recently underwent its fourth round FATF mutual evaluation. In October, Mexico's Supreme Court ruled the FIU's freezing of accounts in one specific case violated constitutional protections including due process rights. The ruling only impacted one entity's frozen accounts, but other similarly affected entities have already filed cases in Mexican federal court. Once four more cases reach the same conclusion at the Supreme Court level (or if the entire Supreme Court bench similarly rules on one case) then the initial ruling will become binding precedent. The FIU can continue to freeze accounts under the current legal framework, but that power may end soon barring a legislative fix. Given that law enforcement and judicial authorities have struggled to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, this development may hamper the government's ability to fight potential terrorist financing until a legislative or procedural fix can be implemented. Mexico was in the process in 2017 of drafting an amendment to their domestic sanctions legislation to address the Supreme Court's finding. Mexico's Finance Ministry has emphasized the ruling does not impact its authority to block accounts associated with UN sanctions, nor impact banks that voluntarily comply with the Office of Foreign Asset Control Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List. Many Mexican banks made progress in 2017 in terms of training on SDN List implementation.
Mexico lacks workable asset forfeiture laws. The lower chamber of Congress passed amendments to improve the legal framework, including an effort to lower high standards for burden of proof, but the amendments remain pending with the Mexican Senate.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): There have been no changes since 2016 other than Mexico's presentation of a successfully adopted resolution at the UN Human Rights Council encouraging protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
International and Regional Cooperation: Mexico participates in the Organization of American States Inter-American Committee against Terrorism and is also a member of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.