Obama Heads to Mexico as Drug Violence, Trucking Dispute Loom

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Obama Heads to Mexico as Drug Violence, Trucking Dispute Loom

Post  dwc43 on Thu Apr 16, 2009 10:17 am

Obama Heads to Mexico as Drug Violence, Trucking Dispute Loom
Bloomberg

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April 16 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama travels to meet with his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, as the U.S. and one of its biggest economic partners grapple with a trade standoff and escalating violence stemming from drug trafficking.

Obama begins his first trip today as president to Latin America in Mexico City, where he and Calderon are likely to discuss border security, a conflict over Mexican trucks delivering goods inside the U.S., the global economic crisis and energy-related issues, including climate change.

Obama’s meeting with Calderon is meant to reinforce his commitment to working with Mexico on issues that pose a threat to the economic and public security of both countries. While Mexican officials have said they are pleased with Obama’s attention to the country, they are seeking more support in the drug fight and an end to the trucking dispute.

“This administration is starting to move in the right direction,” Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., said in an interview last week in Washington as he discussed Obama’s efforts to help quell drug violence. “Is it all that we need? Of course not. It’s a process that needs to be built upon.”

Mexican officials have been pressing the U.S. to do more to staunch the illegal flow of weapons into Mexico.

“Arms trafficking from the U.S. to Mexico must be stopped immediately,” said Jesus Ortega, leader of Mexico’s opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution. “This has heightened the violence in our country and previous U.S. governments have done practically nothing to stop it.”

Summit Meeting

The U.S. president is making the stop in Mexico on his way to Trinidad and Tobago to attend the fifth Summit of the Americas, where Latin American leaders likely will press him on Cuba and other points of contention.

The Mexico visit is aimed at sending “a very strong” signal to Calderon, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough said earlier this week. “The president admires his work as it relates to confronting violence and impunity by criminal trafficking organizations,” McDonough said.

Obama also wants to “underscore and more deeply develop our bilateral relationship on economic matters, as well as on matters related to energy and climate change.”

Mexican cartels sell $13.8 billion a year worth of drugs to U.S. users, according to White House figures. Rival gangs killed more than 6,200 people last year in Mexico, double the total the year before.

Obama, who shortly before his inauguration in January met with Calderon in Washington, last month bolstered U.S. efforts to help Mexico stem violence by increasing the number of law- enforcement officers at the border.

The new steps were crafted to work with programs funded by the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion measure approved by Congress last year.

The mix of crime-fighting equipment sent to Mexico under the program and training provided law officers is “adequate,” Sarukhan said. “We would like to see more support. I think the administration has already started to move in that direction in shutting down the flow of guns and cash to Mexico,” he said.

Obama yesterday designated three Mexican crime organizations as subject to a law that permits the Treasury Department to block financial transactions or seize assets, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. The move demonstrates U.S. support for Calderon’s attempts to battle drug cartels, he said.

Trucking Dispute

On trade, Calderon will urge Obama to push Congress to let Mexican trucks deliver products inside the U.S. Lawmakers last month ended a program that allowed some trucks to cross into the U.S. Mexico retaliated by imposing $2.4 billion in import tariffs on U.S. goods.

Mexico’s government will ask Obama to allow all of the country’s 18-wheelers to operate across the border, Deputy Transportation Minister Humberto Trevino said in an interview. Mexico sees an opportunity for opening access because the Obama administration has expressed a willingness to revive the truck- access program, he said.

The government also is encouraged that 140 U.S. business, food and agricultural groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, last week called on Obama to settle the feud, according to Trevino.

U.S.-Mexico Trade

Trade between the two countries totaled $368 billion in 2008, making Mexico the third-largest U.S. trading partner after Canada and China, according U.S. data.

It would be “premature” to expect a detailed announcement on the trucking dispute this week, McDonough said.

The conflict dates from 1995, when the U.S. refused to implement a cross-border trucking plan agreed to under the North American Free Trade Agreement amid opposition from labor unions. The rules would have let Mexican trucks haul goods to a U.S. destination and pick up cargo to return to Mexico.

“The United States has been in noncompliance of Nafta for 15 years,” Sarukhan said.

Sarukhan predicts that Obama will get the same sort of lavish attention in Mexico that he received on his recent trip to Europe. “The people of Mexico City will turn out onto the streets to try to get a glimpse of him,” he said.

Still, Obama is under pressure improve relations with the region, particularly as many Latin Americans were disappointed in former President George W. Bush, some political observers said.

Bush, a former Texas governor, “expressed some interest in Mexico before becoming president” yet wasn’t “able to follow through,” said Abraham Lowenthal, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

“Obama has even less experience in Latin America than George W. Bush had,” he said. “On the other hand, he’s a very different sort, and he’s obviously very internationally minded, has an international DNA and is very much of a quick study and a learner.”

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