President Obama Demonstrates Statesmanship to Republicans in Meeting Mexico’s President

Last updated on September 25th, 2023 at 01:39 pm

President Enrique Peña Nieto and President Barack Obama (White House photo)

President Enrique Peña Nieto and President Barack Obama (White House photo)

Yesterday, President Barack Obama and Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took 20 minutes to talk to reporters in the Oval Office about various issues involving the two countries, including Cuba, immigration, drug war violence and border security. The 48-year-old Peña Nieto took office in 2012, succeeding the troubled Felipe Calderón, during whose administration, Reuters reported in 2012, more than 55,000 people were killed in the drug war. (Just to put these numbers in perspective, the CDC reports that in 2011 alone, “more than 39,000 people died by suicide in the United States in 2011” and that “homicide claimed another 17,000 people.”)

Earlier in the day, Vice President Joe Biden had hosted the second meeting of the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue (HLED) in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Established by President Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto in May 2013, the HLED is, as the White House explains it, “a flexible platform that allows the U.S. and Mexican governments to advance our economic priorities, foster growth, create jobs, and improve competitiveness”:

Cabinet officials from the U.S. and Mexico meet annually, while sub-cabinet officials work toward these goals year-round. Private sector and civil society representatives are an important part of this process. Together, the two countries discuss the best way to develop our economic relationship with a view toward strengthening the North American economy while supporting our workers and companies.

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The Joint Statement of yesterday’s meeting stresses,

The benefits of our economic integration are clear, with more than $500 billion in bilateral trade per year, and over $100 billion in cross-border investment. U.S. and Mexican companies understand the value of our integrated economy, and have designed their productive processes accordingly, making full use of our competitive advantages and geographical proximity.

According to a Fact Sheet released yesterday by the White House,

The HLED has produced tangible results. We have initialed an air transport agreement which will benefit travelers, shippers, airlines, and the economies of both countries with competitive pricing and more convenient air service. Our two countries have increased cooperation to more efficiently manage our telecommunications systems. Infrastructure improvements at the border have cut wait times significantly for people crossing into the United States at San Diego, CA, and Nogales, AZ. We signed an agreement for mutual recognition of our “trusted trader” programs to ease the flow of goods across borders and we signed a Memorandum of Intent to promote investment.

And the Joint Statement stresses that, “Travel and tourism between the United States and Mexico is an important source of jobs, income, and cultural exchange between the two countries.”

The HLED established the Travel and Tourism Working Group to promote increased travel and tourism and better travel experiences through increased knowledge of tourism flows. During 2014, the Group worked to improve the exchange of data, including statistics, tourism flows, market intelligence, stakeholders, and the economic benefits of these efforts. Our two countries have increased cooperation to manage more efficiently our telecommunications systems along the border, supporting both nations’ goals of accelerating mobile broadband services. The United States also has provided legal and regulatory expertise to Mexico’s new telecommunications regulator to support Mexico’s goals of creating a competitive, market-based regulatory landscape more conducive for telecommunications investment.

On a more controversial note, we are told that, “HLED will also help advance our efforts to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement,” which has been slammed recently by Sen. Bernie Sanders as a disaster for American workers.

Cooperation can provide economic growth for both countries. But as the Vice President hosted his cabinet level meeting, the nation’s leaders talked about some of the issues troubling both countries. Organized crime has, with the murder of 43 students in Iguala, become a painfully visible problem for Mexico, a problem which, as a candidate, Peña Nieto promised to solve, both internally and by working with U.S. agencies. In his first news conference following his election, he told his nation, “I will adjust the strategy so that Mexicans really feel an improvement in security and a reduction in crimes rates, especially homicide, kidnapping and extortion.”

Obviously, things have not improved much. The Mexican president is under a great deal of pressure as a result of this unsolved kidnapping (the FBI is already working with Mexican authorities to investigate the crime). There have been mass demonstrations and some in Mexico have demanded his resignation. Yesterday, there were about 50 protesters demanding answers outside of the White House, in Lafayette Park, who were so loud they could be heard in the Oval Office.

Yesterday, the President told reporters that the U.S. has offered American support to the Mexican government to combat this “the scourge of violence and the drug cartels,” and Peña Nieto called it a “clear challenge” for his country. Obviously, there are limits to what can be done, with the United States seemingly no more able to stop the flow of drugs into this country than Mexico is able to suppress their production. As President Obama made clear yesterday, the resolution of Mexico’s drug violence is ultimately an internal matter:

“Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence and the drug cartels that are responsible for so much tragedy inside of Mexico,” he said, but added that, “Ultimately it will be up to Mexico and its law enforcement to carry out the decisions that need to be made.”

For his part, Peña Nieto took the opportunity yesterday to offer support for Obama’s Cuba decision, calling it “bold,” and for his executive order on immigration, which he also characterized as “bold,” an “act of justice,” and “very intelligent and audacious” – all in all a very different reaction than that of our own Republican Party. Peña Nieto also promised to provide documentation for those Mexicans eligible to remain in this country under Obama’s executive order.

The Mexican president further pledged Mexico to control its border with the US in order to facilitate an “organized and controlled” immigration between the countries and Obama thanked him for helping reduce the flow of unaccompanied children across the border. This is a rather less extreme solution than various Republican calls for a wall and alligator-filled moat between the two countries.

The contrast between President Obama’s approach to Mexico and that of his Republican critics could not be more evident. Whereas Rick Perry and others have expressed a desire to intervene militarily in Mexico, President Obama stresses cooperation – the constructive rather than destructive approach seen as an essential component of all this administration’s foreign policy initiatives.

Yes, we can talk to other countries when we have problems; our first response does not have to be military intervention. Republicans need to get over the Bush era’s Cowboy Diplomacy and realize that violence is not the answer to every problem. President Obama is showing them how.

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