Drug Wars, Immigration on the Agenda as Clinton Heads South: Mexico Hails "New Age Of Cooperation" With U.S.

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

One day after the U.S. announced it will beef up security along its southern border, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Mexico today to discuss drug-related violence and economic issues. Clinton’s counterpart, Patricia Espinoza Castellano, said at a Mexico City press conference yesterday that the American measures are “coherent with the fight against organized crime.”

Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinoza - Photo: AP

Mexico's Foreign Minister Patricia Espinoza. (Photo: AP)

Clinton’s visit comes in advance of a trip by President Barack Obama himself, who will travel south in April to meet Mexico’s head of state, President Felipe Calderón. In response to news of growing drug cartel-related violence in Mexico –and recently in some American cities close to the border– the Obama Administration seems determined to engage and cooperate much more closely with Mexico than the Bush Administration did.

The security measures announced yesterday include sending more immigrations, customs, anti-drug and gun law enforcement officers to the border. In response Espinoza, the Mexican foreign minister, expressed hope for a renewed, closer relationship with Mexico’s northern neighbor.

Espinoza added that the security issue will feature prominently during Clinton’s visit, which she called the start of “a new age of cooperation between both governments.”

She also stated that her government will talk to Clinton about U.S. immigration policies. “We have insisted on an end to raids and to the separation of families (through deportations),” she said.

Arturo Sarukhán, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., also emphasized the “new era” theme. He noted that Clinton’s visit will be followed by others including Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano, and members of Congress. Sarukhán said this marks a change in bilateral relations “for the next months and years,” according to the Notimex news service.

The ambassador added he was “extremely impressed” by the Obama administration’s will to help the Mexican government fight organized crime “on both sides of the border.”

George W. Bush had started his presidency in a similar fashion, meeting then-Mexican President Vicente Fox soon after taking office, and vowing to collaborate with Mexico in addressing immigration. But after 9/11 the Bush administration shifted its focus, and never followed up on that promising start.

President Obama referred to the new border measures during last night’s prime time press conference. “It is very significant,” he said. “We’re sending millions of dollars in additional equipment to provide more effective surveillance. We are providing hundreds of additional personnel that can help control the border, deal with customs issues.”

The goal, he added, was to “assure the border communities in the United States are protected and you’re not seeing a spillover of violence.” He emphacized the need to control the southward flow of guns and cash, which is “what makes (the Mexican cartels) so dangerous.”

Obama again, as he has in the past, praised President Calderón “who has taken on an extremely difficult task” in fighting the cartels, in what in some regions of Mexico has come to look like all-out war.

“We’re helping the Mexican government deal with the situation,” he said.

In case the new security measures prove insufficient, he added, “then we’ll do more.”

Meanwhile, Clinton refuted the characterization of Mexico as a near-failed state that was contained in a Pentagon report published last November, and has offended many politicians and pundits in Mexico City.

“I do not agree with that,” Clinton said, according to Reforma newspaper. “That is not the position of President Obama’s Administration.”

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