Mexico's high hopes for Obama visit

By chillinwill · Apr 17, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    The other day, a Western diplomat based in Mexico City made a small confession to me.

    "If only I knew the pain, heartbreak, and destruction which the drug trade caused," he said, "then I would never have smoked so much of the stuff at college".

    It is tempting to see the dramatic change of attitude by the US administration towards Mexico's drug trade in similar terms.

    For years the United States - although providing the consumers which have made Mexican drug-runners rich and selling most of the weapons which have made them such a formidable force - have not seemed to have seen the issue as a priority.

    It was viewed as a problem that stopped on the southern side of the border.

    All that crossed was a sufficient supply of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines - the experimental consumption of which is almost a rite of passage for many American students.

    But the brutal inter-cartel violence in Mexico, which has burst onto America TV screens over the last few months, seems to have had a profound effect on this administration.

    Last month, as she travelled south from Washington to Mexico City, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the back of the plane and made some surprising remarks to the journalists travelling with her.

    "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," she said.

    "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians."

    Never had a senior American government official described the role of the United States in the trade in such terms.

    Recession worries

    Those close to US President Barack Obama have stressed that the reason he is coming to Mexico City is to stress his support for President Felipe Calderon in his war on drugs.

    Both governments talk of a new era of co-operation, of shared responsibility.

    Drug violence has shocked Mexico. Gory images of murders and decapitations can be seen on the front covers of newspapers every day.

    Many Mexicans despise that fact that a culture of organised crime pervades society. Kidnapping rates have soared.

    But ask people in the capital what they hope from President Obama's visit and you get a reminder that there is a lot more to the US-Mexico relationship than drug cartels and weapons smuggling.

    Most seem far more pre-occupied with another American export - the recession.

    "Let's hope that Obama and Calderon can energise the economy because it is affecting us too much," said Juan Sanchez, as he breakfasted on tacos at a street market in the la Condesa neighbourhood.

    Mexico sends 80% of its exports to the United States. Millions of Mexicans depend upon remittances from their relatives working in the US. The downturn is being felt here.

    Jose Cappon runs one of the hundreds of small businesses in the capital which supply American auto manufacturers. His company makes plastic hub caps for Ford. Last year he had 70 employees. Now he has just 11.

    "When things go well, maybe they will look again to Mexico," he says, standing in front of a dormant plastics moulding machine.

    "But right now, the main thing for Americans, is America."

    Not everyone looks set to suffer in Mexico's recession.

    History has shown that drug consumption tends not to fall significantly in economic downturns.

    "Drug traffickers can take advantage of the crisis," says Professor Jorge Chabat, from Mexico City's centre of research and teaching in economics.

    "It is a good time for doing business if you have cash. And these guys have cash.

    By Stephen Gibbs
    April 16, 2009
    BBC News

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  1. chillinwill
    Obama to back Mexico's drugs war

    US President Barack Obama has arrived in Mexico for a visit during which he is expected to express support for its war on drugs cartels.

    Mr Obama is to hold wide-ranging talks with his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, on topics including the economy and cross-border smuggling.

    Analysts say Mr Obama wants to show solidarity with Mr Calderon.

    Hours before he arrived, 15 gunmen and one soldier were killed in a shoot-out in southern Mexico, officials said.

    Mexico's defence department said soldiers on a drugs patrol came under fire from gunmen in a vehicle in the remote, mountainous state of Guerrero.

    Regional summit

    For most Mexicans, the main concern is reviving the economy, says the BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City.

    Mexico sends 80% of its exports to the US and millions of Mexican families rely on remittances from relatives working north of the border, our correspondent says.

    Mexico is Mr Obama's only stop on the way to the Summit of the Americas, being held in Trinidad and Tobago.

    Relations between the US and Mexico hit a low point earlier this year when a US military report said drugs-related violence was in danger of turning Mexico into a failed state.

    Over the past two years, some 8,000 people have been killed as gangs battle for control of the lucrative drug trafficking routes into the US.

    But President Obama's administration has since expressed solidarity with Mr Calderon who has sent hundreds of troops to regain control of the worst-affected areas.

    During a visit to Mexico City in March, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US shared responsibility for the drugs problem.

    She said America's "insatiable demand" for illegal drugs fuelled the trade and that the US had an "inability" to stop weapons from being smuggled south.

    Mr Obama has sent hundreds of federal agents along with high-tech surveillance equipment and drug-sniffer dogs to help Mexico fight the cartels.

    On Wednesday, the US placed three Mexican organisations on its list of suspected drug syndicates and Mr Obama also charged a senior official with stopping drugs-related violence crossing from Mexico into the US.

    "This is something that we take very seriously, and we're going to continue to work on diligently," Mr Obama said last month.

    Aside from combating the drugs menace, correspondents say Mr Obama and Mr Calderon are likely to discuss immigration reforms and ways of increasing trade between their countries.

    April 16, 2009
    BBC News
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