Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mexican President Calderon Meets with Obama to Discuss Crime Fighting and Economics

Obama Meets with Mexican Leader Calderon CNN
Mexican president likely to find support for drug war in Obama meeting; immigration tougher Star Tribune
Mexican President talks economics with Obama AFP
As Drug Cartels Fight for Control, Killing Coming Faster in Mexico's Murder Capital on the U.S. Border Latin American Herald Tribune

On Monday, January 13, Mexican President Felipe Calderon met with President-elect Barack Obama in Obama's first face-to-face talks as President-elect with a foreign head of state. The meeting is a tradition representing the special relationship between Mexico and the United States - since 1980, U.S. presidents have met with their Mexican counterparts before taking oath. Security and economy were priorities, and immigration policy was also discussed.

A key point of discussion was the ongoing "drug war" that is escalating in Mexico, particularly in border cities as Mexican law enforcement attempts to crack down on organized crime and as drug cartels vie for territory. Drug-related homicides doubled in Mexico last year. In Mexico's most violent city, Ciudad Juarez, 1600 homicides related to organized crime were reported last year, and 51 homicides were already registered in early January. President Calderon asked the U.S. to further cooperation in countering insecurity along the border, including better regulation of firearm sales in U.S. border towns. Approximately 2,000 weapons are smuggled from the U.S. into Mexico every day. In December, the U.S. Justice Department called Mexican cartels the biggest organized crime threat to the United States. As explained by Calderon, "The more secure Mexico is, the more secure the United States will be...This common problem of organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, which is an international problem, we can fight together." Last year the U.S. extended Calderon's administration a 197 million dollar aid package to help fight crime, and U.S. officials have praised Calderon's fight against the cartels and capture of top drug kingpins. The aid is part of a three-year, 1.6 billion dollar program, the Merida Initiative, for Mexico and other Central American and Caribbean nations to fight organized crime.

Obama will likely be receptive to that message, said Michael Shifter, a vice president at the Inter-American Dialogue. "This isn't an issue that he has focused a lot of attention on up until now," added Shifter. "But he's going to understand that if Mexico really deteriorates or if the violence spills over into the border states, this is a war that he really has to deal with."

Calderon also expressed concerns regarding the flailing U.S. economy, which has already began to severely effect the Mexican economy. Mexican banks and business had avoided most of the risks that got U.S. banks into trouble. However, the close trading relationship between the two countries and the dependency of many Mexicans on remittances sent by family members working in the U.S. means that any U.S. economic slowdown will inevitably flow into Mexico. Calderon's office stated, "The two economies are complementary, so they can only operate and prosper if they are sensible and they responsibly integrate the economic factors that affect their competitiveness."

Additional points of discussion included Obama's expressed interest in reforming the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and immigration reform. However, given the current emphasis on the economic slowdown in organized crime violence, these two issues hold a lower priority for the two leaders.

1) Aside from funding, how best can U.S. law enforcement aid Mexican law enforcement in its fight against drug cartels?
2) Is there anything the Obama administration can do specifically to minimize the impact of the U.S. economic crisis on Mexico? Does the U.S. have a responsibility to do anything to minimize such impact?

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