December 12, 2008

Obama and Mexico

By Mariana Martínez

Obama´s triumph made millions rest assured that there will be a change, many of them where Mexicans, whose families live in the United States, a country who’s destiny is deeply intertwined with theirs as the final destination of 80% of Mexican exports.

But in the middle of a deepening economic crisis and mortgages, car makers and the war in Iraq, Will Obama´s presidency change the bilateral agenda?

Ms. Alicia Duarte is a Tijuana resident who crosses to San Diego at least three times a week, her son Juan Carlos is in the army currently serving in Afghanistan, while her daughter Alicia lives in LA and has been unemployed for the past three months.

For her, the future of the US is that of her own two kids.

“I hope this Obama fellow really keeps his word when he becomes president, because we Mexicans trusted Vicente Fox and look at the mess he made….we voted for Fox hoping for change, same as Americans did”.

Ms. Duarte´s fear are those of hundreds of political analysts trying to figure out his presidency, watching over his every word and decision, especially of key cabinet members and any mention of Latin America.

During the elections, Mexico was discussed regarding the three major subjects; the NAFTA renegotiations, increasing violence and the war on drugs, and immigration.

Regarding immigration, economist Cuautémoc Calderón Villareal from Mexican think tank, Colegio de la Frontera Norte, is less than optimistic.

“The priority of the US is not Mexico, it has never been and now less. We have always been perceived as a problem to solve and not an ally”, he explains, “The United States sees the immigration reform based on their employee needs, theirs, not ours, if they agree to a change it will not be out of the goodness of their hearts or because or a humane feeling”.

According to Calderon, flexibility and dialog will only come as the economy demands workers, something that can only be done after rescuing the US economy, where Obama surely will focus his first efforts.

Even if we cannot exactly predict how Obama´s administration will change the relationship with Mexico, the selection of his security team and commerce secretary gives us a few clues.

The designation of his ex-rival Hillary Clinton to the Department of State has had mixed reactions in Mexico.

While it is true Clinton was in favor of a NAFTA renegotiation, Doctor Laura Carlsen from Center for International Policies, explains Obama and her do not agree on the details of such negotiation.

“In terms of the relationship [Mexicans] believe she is a capable diplomat, open to a relationship with Mexico, but she has given no clear signals about her plans in her new role” Carlsen explained.

The deep increase in violence and organized crime has been addressed by Barak Obama, who expressed his willingness to help, when he was still a presidential candidate.

During one address in Miami, Obama acknowledged drug cartels are terrorizing cities and towns across Mexico, and expressed his support for president Calderon´s aggressive approach.

“We must support Mexico’s effort to crack down. But we must stand for more than force – we must support the rule of law from the bottom up. That means more investments in prevention and prosecutors; in community policing and an independent judiciary”, he said.

But Dr. Carlsen fears this accord of support for the drug war, are seriously damaging Mexico, by supporting militarization and deepening corruption.

In Tijuana there have been 757 violent killings so far this year, most of them linked to organized crime, while all over the country, even high level officials have been involved in scandals of corruption and support for the narco trade.

“When all efforts go to the interdiction, meaning to stop the flow of drugs from production and traffic to market, what happens is that you have a militarized society” she explained, “an environment where corruption grows as military has more contact with the population and drug cartel members…and that is precisely what we have here, we have doubled the murder rate of drug related killings than we had just last year”.

Many questions remain, but experts agree, Obama´s administration is off to a good start regarding the binational agenda, but are quick to point out that social mobilization in both countries as well as pressure from party bases, are the key to pushing important issues higher up in the priority plan.

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