2009-04-17

President Obama visits Mexico

Barack Obama's first stop on his Latin American tour was Mexico where he met President Felipe Calderón to discuss immigration and drug trafficking, 16 April, 2009.

Barack Obama's first stop on his Latin American tour was Mexico where he met President Felipe Calderón to discuss immigration and drug trafficking, 16 April, 2009.

Lucía Vega

MEXICO CITY, Mexico – U.S. President Barack Obama began his first Latin American tour in Mexico on 16 April where he announced his country's renewed commitment to fight drug trafficking during talks which centred on security and immigration.

Obama pledged to his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderón that the U.S. would do its part to combat the drug trade which has been firmly established on the border between the two countries. “We have already implemented the Merida Initiative [against organised crime] but we also need to stop the illegal flow of weapons and money,” emphasised Obama to AFP.

Although both Calderón and Obama agreed that it was not realistic to expect the complete dismantling of the drug trade, they suggested a number of ways to combat the problem including making funds available sooner for the Merida Initiative and strengthening intelligence cooperation to fight money laundering.

Obama called Calderón's anti-drug efforts “heroic” and said he was a partner who had shown courage and bravery, combining “a sense of principle with a sense of practicality”.

President Obama admitted, according to La Jornada, that 90 percent of weapons used by Mexican drug cartels come from the U.S. “We are also responsible” added Obama, and urged the U.S. Senate to ratify an inter-American convention to control the sale and movement of small firearms. The bill was proposed during former President Bill Clinton's government but has been stalled ever since.

Various experts have challenged that figure as being far too high, noting that the 90 percent figure is based only on confiscated weapons the Mexican government finds suspicious and sends to the US for verification, not all weapons used or even seized.

Still, El Universal quoted Obama as saying, “None of us are under any illusion that reinstating that ban would be easy ... And so, what we've focused on is how we can improve our enforcement of existing laws.”

Panorama Diario reported that Mexico's President Calderón said the smuggled weapons “are being used against the Mexican people and authorities,” but “organised crime is operating from the United States”.

On the topic of immigration, La Jornada stressed that Obama's administration is committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform to regulate the flow of immigrants. “My whole goal is to remove the politics of this and take a very practical, common-sense approach that benefits people on both sides of the border,” he said.

Although he also warned that the U.S. “has a very legitimate concerns” over the thousands of illegal workers entering the country where they can be exploited and “undermine the wages” of U.S. workers.

Calderón said that his government was seeking solutions to “create opportunities in Mexico” to stem the flow of emigrants.

As their meeting came to an end, Calderón and Obama agreed that both countries had begun a new relationship to confront the challenges of immigration, drug trafficking and climate change.

During his short visit to Mexico, President Obama also met staff from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and representatives from the American Chamber of Commerce. The trip concluded with an official dinner at Mexico's Anthropology Museum.

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