Obama in Mexico: Change the Reality, Not the Conversation

Ray Walser /



President Obama will be visiting Mexico City on May 2–4, where he will meet with his counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto.

Both leaders have made clear that they want to change the conversation and not let runaway violence and Mexico’s persistent security crisis, which has claimed over 60,000 lives since 2006, dominate the headlines.

Of course there is much value in an opportunities-oriented approach to U.S.–Mexico relations. The two countries have unique ties based on patterns of trade, investment, integrated manufacturing, and the movement of peoples. Both nations should continue to deepen this relationship by focusing on everything from trade, global competitiveness, and modernizing and securing our shared 2,000-mile border in ways that advance economic freedom and improve educational quality and energy development.

Yet addressing hard, seemingly intractable issues related to the illicit traffic in drugs, people, guns, and money moving with relative ease across the U.S.–Mexico border remains a major challenge for both leaders.

The Obama Administration has done little to reduce drug demand in the U.S. Consumption of marijuana is on the rise among teens. There is legal confusion in Washington following passage of legalization measures in Colorado and Washington. Resource reductions for drug interdiction and treatment are built into the fiscal crisis. Prior objectives for drug prevention and treatment established by the Obama Administration have not been met, according to the Government Accountability Office. Meanwhile, cash and guns flow south largely unchecked into Mexico.

Cooperation with Mexico may be scaled back or waning as U.S. officials are excluded from intelligence fusion centers the U.S. helped to set up. A new emphasis on citizen security may take the law enforcement heat of trafficking kingpins, who will likely attempt to move drugs across Mexico with less violence and greater efficiency as Mexican law enforcement focuses on the most violent criminal elements.

Changing a conversation is easy. Politicians and diplomats do it all the time. But hard facts and real deeds shape the bedrock of reality. On both sides of the border, the U.S. and Mexico are far from resolving the insecurity-producing challenges posed by transnational crime, drug consumption, human trafficking, and border insecurity. Happy talk and wishful thinking will not make these problems go away. In fact, they have a reasonable chance of allowing them to worsen.