Obama’s Mexico visit seen as solid backing for Peña Nieto

US president wants to discuss immigration and security, and renew economic ties Central American leaders will have a sit-down with Obama in Costa Rica

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto seen during a news conference in Rome earlier this month.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto seen during a news conference in Rome earlier this month.EFE

President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Mexico in May underscores the priority that the White House has placed on its relations with its southern neighbor, and the importance in coming up with a common strategy to help stem illegal migration to the United States.

This will be Obama’s second overseas trip of his second term after visiting Israel – the United States’ biggest ally in the Middle East.

The trip can also be seen as a sign of Washington’s support for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s sweeping reforms, as well as giving the United States an opportunity to strengthen business ties with Latin America’s second largest economy.

Obama will travel to Mexico and Costa Rica from May 2-4. Although the trips have been planned for some time, the sites for the meetings with Peña Nieto have not been announced. It isn’t the first time the two leaders have met, but it is the first time that they will hold talks after both were sworn into office – Peña Nieto for his first and only six-year term in December and Obama for his second and last four-year term in January.

The visit also comes on the eve of Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, the national holiday to mark the 1864 Battle of Puebla where Mexican soldiers defeated France. It is also celebrated among the Mexican-American communities throughout the United States as Mexican pride day.

Among the main issues in the bilateral talks will be immigration, security and joint economic policy. The White House is currently engaged in an uphill battle with Republican lawmakers to find ways to legalize some 11 million undocumented workers in the United States, the majority of them from Mexico. As one of the conditions for passage, members of Congress have insisted the government must beef up patrols and security along the two countries’ 3,000-kilometer common border where people, weapons and drugs are smuggled through each day.

On Wednesday, Obama told Spanish-language media in the United States that he hopes the migration legislation will be ready by the end of the summer.

The White House is currently engaged in an uphill battle with Republican lawmakers to find ways to legalize some 11 million undocumented workers in the United States, the majority of them from Mexico

“Obama’s visit is to show support to Peña Nieto but there is also recognition that something isn’t working well in the southern belt of the United States,” said Sergio Aguayo, a professor at Mexico City’s prestigious Colegio de México. “Having a secure border has been a key strategy for the United States ever since 1929, during the presidency of Plutarco Elías Calles.

“For decades it worked well but holes have appeared in the last few years.”

Historian Héctor Aguilar Camín opined the visit will allow both countries to “re-establish” relations and joint cooperation. “The problems with migration, drugs and violence are not just Mexican; they are bi-national and regional and they deserve some global responsibility.”

Since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón announced a war against drug traffickers, there have been an estimated 70,000 deaths in Mexico with an additional 25,000 people missing. Peña Nieto has announced new strategies to battle the narcotics gangs, including the creation of a paramilitary force. However, since he took office four months ago there have been 3,000 killings.

“You can’t continue to demand that we gun down our own drug capos; law enforcement isn’t enough. The drug markets have to be controlled. We need to be treated as partners, not as enemies.”

In Costa Rica, Obama is scheduled to meet with President Laura Chinchilla and other heads of state from Central America and the Dominican Republic who will be on hand for a regional conference Costa Rica is hosting.

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