Mexico’s Harvard-educated president, Felipe Calderon, is a natural ally of the United States. But relations with Washington are strained over immigration policy and spiraling violence linked to drug trafficking.
Speaking to a small group of journalists last week, Calderon said Mexico expects “much more” from Washington.
Emboldened perhaps by Bush’s diminished stature at home and abroad, Calderon energetically insisted Mexico would not tolerate “a relationship of subordination” to the United States.
His words echo widespread frustration across the hemisphere with a perceived lack of U.S. sensitivity to the region’s needs. This stems in large part from the Iraq war, which has preoccupied the Bush administration. A sharp leftward tilt in the region has also led to calls for a shift in U.S. policy, away from Washington’s free trade agenda to greater emphasis on social issues.
“Today U.S. policy in the Americas is not adequately serving the interests of the United States or the nations of Latin America,” Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, which focuses on policy in the Western Hemisphere, testified recently before Congress.
Nowhere is that clearer perhaps than in Mexico. Calderon complained that his country “suffers” from the appetite of drug users in the United States, which has spawned violent drug trafficking gangs in Mexico.
“The U.S. has to commit itself more in this struggle,” he said without specifying what measures he had in mind.
Mexican officials point out that while Mexican drug lords ship cocaine into the United States, their guns mostly come from American weapons dealers.
Calderon had equally strong words for Bush regarding immigration, saying it could not be reduced by border fences and policies of “exclusion.”
“Immigration can only be reduced with opportunities of progress and prosperity in Mexico,” he said.
In recent opinion polls taken across the region, a majority of Latin Americans view the United States unfavorably, strongly disapproving of the Bush administration’s foreign policies.
“George W. Bush is the least appropriate person on Earth for this mission,” wrote Castaneda. “Many snicker that if he defends democracy in Latin America as well as he has in Iraq, only God can help Latin American democrats.”
Comprehensive immigration reform in the United States, including temporary work visas for Mexican laborers, would go a long way toward smoothing relations with Mexico. But the United States also needs to pay attention to the underlying “push factors” driving Mexican migrants, said John Burstein, a veteran of rural development projects in Mexico. U.S. agricultural subsidies make it almost impossible for Mexican farmers to compete with cheap imports, “which only spur the flow of immigrants.”
‘Not rocket science’
Critics echo Calderon’s call for “much more,” saying the United States and Mexico have failed to exploit the decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
“This is not rocket science,” said Luis de la Calle, a former Mexican trade official and leading business consultant.
“Mexico has been transformed by NAFTA. But we could do a lot more things,” he added. “There’s just lack of imagination and political commitment to do it.”
For example, the United States should invest heavily in roads and infrastructure along the border to reduce political tensions over the immigration fence.
The United States should also consider greater technical assistance for the agricultural development of the Mexican countryside. High corn prices in the United States because of the booming corn-ethanol industry provide an opportunity for Mexican farmers to compete with U.S. imports, de la Calle noted.
The United States could also make a huge impact simply by creating more scholarships for Mexican students at American universities, he said, pointing out that there are currently eight times more Chinese students studying in the United States than Mexicans.