U.S. approach also shifting
In a report to Congress this month, the U.S. State Department said some efforts to combat cartels in Mexico have paid off. Major cartel leaders have been captured, the report says, and the number of annual deaths because of drug-related violence declined from 2011 to 2012.
The United States and Mexico's cooperation to fight cartels is "unprecedented," according to the State Department's 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which says the United States has provided $1.1 billion in security aid to Mexico since 2008 through the Merida Initiative.
More leaders of criminal organizations have been brought to justice as a result, the report says.
"That success, however, has also resulted in smaller, fractured organizations that have violently attempted to consolidate their power," the report says. And with profits from the drug trade dropping, cartels have turned to other activities, such as kidnapping, extortion and human trafficking.
The report suggests that for the United States, too, it's time for a new approach.
"The focus of U.S.-Mexico cooperation has shifted from providing large-scale equipment to engaging in training and capacity building, and from focusing on the federal-level to building state- and municipal-level capabilities. Accordingly, justice sector reforms, drug demand reduction, and culture of lawfulness initiatives should play a larger role," the report said. "The United States should also continue programs to curb its domestic drug demand and inhibit the illegal flow of arms and cash into Mexico."
Pena Nieto has been pushing for ties for the neighboring nations to go beyond the drug war.
And security issues received only a slight mention in statements from both governments Wednesday announcing President Barack Obama's plans to visit Mexico in May.
As officials change their tones and tactics, authorities in Uruapan also will be trying a new approach, Mexico's state-run Notimex news agency reported Wednesday.
Next month, officials will open trade-in centers there and elsewhere in Michoacan state where residents can receive tablets, netbooks or money.
In exchange, they'll have to hand in their guns.