President Obama visits MexicoPosted: Updated:
President Obama's is on his way to Mexico city. Security is tight but the mood is hopeful here. The President's first public appearance will be at a welcoming ceremony. Then he'll spend the afternoon in series of private "working" meetings that cover a range of issues.
1) Curbing drug violence: especially along the border where drug cartels are locked in a bloody battle over smuggling routes that lead to the U.S. The Obama adminstration plans to send more border agents, along with high tech surveillance equipment and K-9 teams to search"outbound" traffic heading into Mexico. The goal? Catch more gun runners and cash from drug sales. Both are critical to keeping powerful cartels in business.
President Obama will likely to applaud President Calderon effort to crackdown on the cartels. A recent troop surge in Juarez has brought the body count down to dozens vs hundreds this past month. But there are lingering questions about replacing local police with soldiers long term. There's the risk of corruption the longer the forces are in one place and the threat of human rights abuses.
2)Weapons Tafficking: Some of the additional reinforcements being shifted to the border include 100 ATF agents and support staff that will be reassigned to Texas to help investigate a backlog of cases. Mexico blames gun smugglers in the U.S. (especially in Texas and Arizona) for helping drug cartels build their aresenals. This week Mexican police seized a 50 caliber mega machine gun that fires up to 800 rounds a minute and can penetrate steel from a mile away. It was mounted on a pickup truck parked in Nogales, Mexico. Investigators suspect the U.S. made weapon may have been bought on the military black market in Mexico.
This past weekend Mexico's Ambassador in the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan repeated the figure that 90 percent of all the weapons traced in Mexico are from the U.S. Gun rights advocates are quick to point out only a fraction of the guns seized by Mexican authorities are traced at all.
But both ATF and Mexican federal police are confident tracing more of the weapons would reveal similar results. The bottom line they say Mexican gun cartels buy the bulk of their guns in the U.S.
3)Trade: The two neigbhors economies are linked now more than ever. Mexico does not have a sub-prime mortgage crisis but any downturn in the U.S. is painful south of the border too. The old saying when the U.S. catches a cold, Mexico catches pneumonia is often repeated during hard times. The U.S. economic ills this time are more like a serious flu -- so there's no escaping the pain. President Calderon may express concern about the "buy America" clause in the stimulus package.
And then there's the long and now bitter battle over Mexican trucks. The U.S. is violating NAFTA by blocking Mexican trucks beyond a small border buffer zone. When Congress again denied access this past month, Mexico responded by slapping tariffs on $2.4 billion in imports.
4)Immigration: It's hard to believe the issue would come up during a recession when all the experts said it's politically impossible to do much. But the Obama adminstration recently announced a committment to immigration reform and may start to work on a plan as early as this Summer. It's welcomed news in Mexico. Many of the people we talked to on the streets brought that up as a major concern including William Scanlan from Austin. He moved to Mexico City 3 years ago with his dog Diego, a black Lab. Scanlan collects Mexcian folk art and opened a "Mail Boxes Etc." franchise after finding it was difficult to find an affordable way to ship pieces across the border.
I ran into Scanlan outside the office which happens to be just across the street from the hotel where President Obama is spending the night Thursday. He had a letter he was trying to get into the President's hands offering help in "hammering out a migrant worker program that might work." He said it was important for the U.S. to realize these workers "are the backbone of our southwest and many areas of the country like Chicago, New York and Atlanta."
Beyond these thorny issues there's a real excitement about this Presidential visit. On the motorcade route to the hotel workers hung American and Mexican flags from light posts.
Police stacked barricades neatly along sidewalks. They'll be used later for security and crowd control. Authorities expect plenty of people to try to catch a glimpse of the U.S. President.
Scanlan, the Texas native, hopes to snap a photo or two. He's also trying to convince the secret service to pass along some gifts from his favorite Mexican fashion designer Pineda Covalin for the President, First Lady and their daughters. "Bo however is out of luck, as I have yet to find any dog toys (here in Mexico) worthy of my dog's time and much less a Presidential Pooch, " he explained.