Presidents Barack Obama, Enrique Pena Nieto Hold Uneventful Meeting in Mexico City

By Navarro, Carlos | SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, May 8, 2013 | Go to article overview

Presidents Barack Obama, Enrique Pena Nieto Hold Uneventful Meeting in Mexico City


Navarro, Carlos, SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico


Before US President Barack Obama stepped on Mexican soil, he pledged that the agenda for his meeting with Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto would extend beyond discussions of security and immigration, which have been the topics most addressed during bilateral meetings in recent years (SourceMex, May 26, 2010).

Obama landed in Mexico City on the afternoon of May 2, held a series of meetings with Pena Nieto, and the two leaders then held a joint press conference at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. The next morning, Obama delivered a speech at the Museo de Antropologia e Historia before Air Force One took off for San Jose, Costa Rica, and a series of meetings with President Laura Chinchilla.

The whirlwind visit of a day or so to Mexico will most likely fade from memory, since no significant agreements came out of the meetings, at least none shared with the public. Very few people remember the outcome of Obama's previous trip to Mexico in 2009, when he met with then President Felipe Calderon to discuss drug-related violence, a common strategy on climate change, and trade disputes.

In comments before the summit, both Obama and Pena Nieto said they wanted the meetings to focus on economic issues rather than security. "All indications are that Enrique Pena and Barack Obama--both experts in managing the media and public opinion--appear to be directing their comments to their respective constituencies," said columnist Ricardo Aleman. "In other words, they adopted an agenda that was different from the one that has traditionally been at the center of negotiations by their predecessors."

But Aleman also noted that "immigration and security remain the overarching themes [of this bilateral relationship]."

Presidents vague about security issue

And some nongovernmental organizations were well-aware that the two issues would be discussed in one form or another. Human rights advocates in the US appealed to Obama to take the opportunity to change the direction of US foreign policy. In a letter to the US president ahead of his visit, the Washington-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Obama to abandon the US's "uncritical support" for Mexico's drug-interdiction policies, begun during the Calderon administration, which resulted in a "dramatic increase" in human rights abuses.

Pena Nieto came to office with a promise to change the government's anti-crime strategy by removing the armed forces from drug-interdiction efforts and replacing them with a national police force and more coordination among local, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies (SourceMex, Dec. 19, 2012).

In Pena Nieto's nearly half year in office, there appears to be little discernible change in the levels of drug-related violence, although there has not been much progress in implementing structural change. This is partly because some structural changes are still pending, including creating a national police force to replace the armed forces in anti-drug operations.

Unofficial estimates from state prosecutor's offices and several federal agencies show more than 4,100 violent deaths between Dec. 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013, which is on par with the numbers recorded when Calderon was in office, the Mexico City daily business newspaper El Economista said on May 5. Another 1,100 similar murders were recorded during April, the newspaper calculated.

And Gustavo Madero, the president of Calderon's Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), suggested that Pena Nieto's strategy differs little from his predecessor. "It is very clear that the current government is continuing the strategy for combating drug trafficking and insecurity that was in place during the administration of President Calderon," said the PAN president.

But Pena Nieto's approach shows some subtle changes that have created concerns among US officials. "In speeches, and in some of its actions, there has been a reticence on the part of the current administration to continue allowing the US to stay so closely involved in the prosecution of drug cartels," columnist Leo Zuckermann wrote in the Mexico City daily newspaper Excelsior. …

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