The White House on Wednesday announced that President Obama will be traveling to Latin America for the first time this term, heading for Mexico and Costa Rica in early May. The former in particular holds several challenges for the President, given Mexico’s proximity and close ties to the U.S. and the many difficulties Mexico’s new President faces. Here’s a few of the issues President Obama will have to confront during his travels:
- Border Security
Given the domestic agenda in the United States, there’s little chance that Obama’s discussions with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will manage to avoid the issue of immigration between the two countries. The debate in the U.S. has particularly focused on the security of the border between the U.S. and Mexico, with Republicans clamoring for more. Two GOP members of the U.S. Senate’s so-called “Gang of Eight” working on immigration toured parts of Arizona’s border on Wednesday, noting that they witnessed a woman scaling the fence between the countries. The woman was quickly apprehended, showcasing the billions of dollars already being spent on border security.
- Economic Ties
Issues of border security aside, Presidents Obama and Pena Nieto will likely discuss migration patterns and the economic links between the two states substantially. While the U.S. is home to an estimated 12 million immigrants from Mexico, net migration from the U.S. southern neighbor fell to nearly zero in 2012, possibly due to a less than robust U.S. economy. Despite that, the U.S. and Mexico engaged in over $200 billion worth of cross-border trade in 2012. Even more of an indicator of the ties between the state of the two economies, despite remittances — money immigrants send to their native country — dropping in 2012, they still made up over $22 billion.
- Drug Trade and Violence
Given Pena’s inheritance of former President Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs, the power of Mexico’s drug cartels is sure to top the agenda of the two leaders. Over 50,000 Mexican civilians have died in the conflict, which has so far not managed to crack the hold of the cartels on many towns and cities. In Nov. 2012, the Zetas — the largest cartel in Mexico — managed to take total control of the third-largest state in the country. A general inability of the central state to provide public security exists throughout many areas, resulting in vigilantes taking over towns and arresting the police. But even when central government can provide the forces necessary to provide security, the human rights abuses they’ve been accused of perpetrating tend to outweigh the benefits of their protection for civilians.
The United States has done its part to help along instability in Mexico. A recent study shows that when the U.S. allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, the effect was felt heavily in Mexico. As much as 16 percent of the increase in homicides in Mexico can be tied to that expiration, according to the study. In terms of direct support for the drug trade, a new study of the Custom and Border Patrol’s own data shows that Americans are involved in as much as 80 percent of the drug trafficking across the border.
(Photo: Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto speaks with President Obama)