The March 3 working meeting between Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon and U.S. President Barack Obama loomed as a showdown over Mexico’s sputtering war against crime and increasingly prickly relations between Mexico and the U.S. The encounter, however, took a sunny turn when the two presidents agreed to focus on trade, regulation, and energy issues rather than come to dagger points over Mexico’s seemingly out-of-control crime war.
The presidents agreed on a plan to settle a long-standing dispute over a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) commitment to allow a limited number of Mexican-owned and -operated trucks—closely inspected and monitored—to drive on U.S. highways. The termination of a pilot program at the behest of the Teamsters union triggered a costly trade dispute and led to the imposition of $2.4 billion in Mexican tariffs.
Presidents Calderon and Obama also committed to regulatory cooperation, establishing a High Level Regulatory Cooperation, which looks considerably like a partial re-creation of President George W. Bush’s Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, an initiative quietly axed by the Obama Administration.
The trucking decision provoked a convulsive response from the protectionist truckers union. It “caves in to business interests at the expense of the traveling public and American workers,” said International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Jim Hoffa.
On the crime front, President Obama mainly punted. The U.S., he said, “accepts our shared responsibility for the drug violence. So to combat the southbound flow of guns and money, we are screening all southbound rail cargo, seizing many more guns bound for Mexico and we are putting more gunrunners behind bars. And as part of our new drug control strategy, we are focused on reducing the demand for drugs through education, prevention and treatment.” Obama did not propose new ideas or additional resources or offer his personal involvement in the anti-drug effort.
In separate events, President Calderon attempted to drive home several points. U.S. drug demand helps drive criminal violence in Mexico. Calderon asked why the Obama Administration continues to open a backdoor for the Mexican transnational crime cartels through the spread of “medical marijuana” dispensaries and a general laxity toward drug usage. He urged the Administration to end its incoherent policy and either prosecute or “have the honesty” to legalize a measure that would do little to deter criminal behavior on either side of the border. On guns, he urged Americans not to “sell weapons to Mexican criminals,” a point tragically brought home when it was discovered that immigration agent Jaime Zapata, murdered by Mexican traffickers in Mexico on February 15, was the victim of a weapon acquired by illegal gunrunners in the U.S.
By partially deflecting media attention from the raging violence in Mexico and addressing other important but less contentious issues, the Presidents could claim a modest victory. Yet the shadow of a crime and drug war waged at two different speeds remains uppermost in the minds of Mexicans and many Americans.