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Obama’s Mexico trip: What they probably won’t say, but should
First Published May 01 2013 12:16 pm • Last Updated May 01 2013 12:20 pm

MEXICO CITY • Amid the clamor framing President Barack Obama’s overnight stop in Mexico’s capital Thursday, smarter folk will be listening to the sounds of silence.

Because in such whistle-stop summits national leaders usually strive to accentuate the positive.

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But more than the happy chatter — about trade, economic reforms and enduring friendships — what Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto don’t say, at least publicly, may be more telling about their countries’ close but often conflicted relationship.

Analysts say U.S. officials privately have been chewing nails over what might be Pena’s dismantling of their close involvement in Mexico’s six-year campaign against its crime lords.

Washington has earmarked $1.9 billion in equipment and training for Mexican security forces as part of that effort.

The drug war, which in Mexico has claimed some 70,000 lives and left another 25,000 missing, so far has failed to curtail either drugs heading to U.S. consumers or gangsters preying on Mexican communities.

Migration nations

Pena’s government has a lot riding on the immigration reform debate brewing in the U.S. Congress — the most viable effort in a dozen years. It’s vitally important to the estimated 6 million Mexicans living illegally north of the border and to their families at home.

But past Mexican presidents have been burned trying to actively lobby on U.S. immigration policy in the past.

Contentious immigration and drug war talk could get short shrift, in public, by the presidents and their aides.


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"We’ve spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border," Obama said in turning to Mexico at the very end of a wide-ranging press conference Tuesday.

Mexico’s economy weathered the 2008 global crisis better than many and is growing at nearly double the rate of the United States’. The two countries sell one another some $500 billion worth of products and services every year. Since taking office five months ago, Pena has pushed an array of economy-related reforms, many of benefit to U.S. interests.

"We want to see how we can deepen that, how we can improve that and maintain that economic dialogue over a long period of time," Obama said. "That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be talking about security."

Costa Rica leg

Obama also will focus mostly on economic issues, especially energy cooperation and development, at a meeting with Central American presidents in Costa Rica on Friday and Saturday.

But Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala also are struggling with severe criminal violence of their own, much of it linked to the Mexican gangs smuggling narcotics to the United States.

"The vision here is that we want to make sure that our hemisphere is more effectively integrated to improve the economy and security of all people," Obama said at the press conference in Washington. "That’s good for the United States."

Pena complains that both gangland violence and the shared strategy to confront it defined the relationship with Washington during the term of his predecessor, former President Felipe Calderon, from an opposing party that governed Mexico for 12 years. Pena comes from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, that ruled Mexico for about seven decades.

Mexican officials have moved to scale back the close collaboration and intelligence sharing that developed under Calderon, analysts say. At the same time, they’ve worked aggressively to push the violence from both headlines and the bilateral agenda in an effort to improve Mexico’s international reputation.

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