US President Barack Obama traveled to Mexico on Thursday to define a bilateral cooperation agenda just as Mexico embarks on a new political period under Enrique Peña Nieto, who has promised to reform the country’s economy, strengthen democracy and make the nation globally competitive.
Both governments are keen to reset their relations, which are currently heavily focused on security, and introduce more economic initiatives. Both Mexico and the US have expressed an interest in reinforcing their trade ties as a tool for growth and job creation. Both seem aware of the advantages that a strong North American region could have for global influence.
Before flying out of Washington, Obama held a press conference in which he announced that his talks with Peña Nieto would be “significantly focused on the economy.”
But Mexico and the US continue to face urgent security and drug trafficking issues that require joint solutions. The Mexican government is drafting a new strategy to fight organized crime that seeks to take duties away from the army and the intelligence services and give added responsibility to the police and the office of the chief of staff.
The failure of gun control legislation in the US is viewed here as a major victory for the drug cartels
This change could curtail US narcotics agencies’ freedom to operate on Mexican territory, where they helped locate and arrest several drug lords in the past. While the US shares Peña Nieto’s desire to take the war on drugs away from the public limelight, it does not want to leave criminals an open field in which to operate freely.
Asked about this controversy, Ben Rhodes, the White House’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, said that one of the reasons why Obama wants to sit down with Peña Nieto early on is to get an idea of the exact terms of the collaboration.
Obama himself said he would not talk about the Mexican government’s security strategy until he personally heard what they intend to do.
Rhodes specified that the goal of the US, which contributed intelligence and military resources to Felipe Calderón’s war against drug trafficking, is not to have a specific presence in that battle, but “to cooperate so that the outcome is beneficial to both nations.”
Mexico brings its own demands to this summit. The failure of gun control legislation in the US is viewed here as a major victory for the drug cartels, which stock their arsenals from the other side of the border.
It is not very likely, however, that differences over security issues will hinder both governments’ move to cooperate on a broader list of common goals, from Mexico’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership to immigration reform in the US.