Remaking Mexico: Law Reform as Foreign Policy

61 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2013  

Deborah M. Weissman

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: April 6, 2013


This article, Remaking Mexico: Law Reform as Foreign Policy, examines the practice of promoting rule of law programs abroad as a matter of a foreign policy subgenre. It argues that U.S. law reform projects as foreign aid conditionalities preempt the political discourse from substantive debates about justice systems. The arguments are developed through an assessment of the Mérida Initiative (also known as Plan México) which is a product of U.S. policy efforts to shape the legal systems of select foreign countries.

The article reviews the circumstances in Mexico as they relate to U.S. efforts to export law and legal systems. It reviews the inability of the Mexican legal system to respond adequately to crime, and chronicles the U.S. response to drug-related violence in Mexico according to the mandates of the Mérida Initiative which, in addition to financing the militarization of the war-on-drugs, serves to fund and direct the overhaul of Mexico’s legal system. It evaluates the use of law as a political instrument in a historic context and builds upon long-standing questions concerning the efficacy of exporting legal systems. It considers foundational differences between U.S. and Mexican legal systems and argues that much of the Mérida Initiative rule of law program is ill-matched with Mexico’s legal culture. Moreover, efforts to transplant legal systems that impinge on the prerogative of nation have been viewed with suspicion and may well undermine Mexican law reform efforts and produce baneful outcomes.

The article concludes by distinguishing the goals articulated by Mexican social justice advocates who seek to move from a U.S. model that seeks to enhance all manner of criminalization strategies to respond to drug violence to locally controlled community safety programs. Citizens must determine the means and develop the substance of systems of law in a manner consistent with their history and political institutions in order for legal rights to inspire confidence, obtain credibility, and improve the social fabric of their country.

Keywords: Rule of Law, Foreign Policy, Exporting Law, Transplanting Law, Mexico, Mérida Initiative, War on Drugs, Drug Cartels

Suggested Citation

Weissman, Deborah M., Remaking Mexico: Law Reform as Foreign Policy (April 6, 2013). Cardozo Law Review, Forthcoming; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2246126. Available at SSRN:

Deborah M. Weissman (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-5108 (Phone)
919-962-1277 (Fax)

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