Mexican President Felipe Calderón comes to Washington today for a two-day meeting with Barack Obama, John Boehner and other business leaders, amidst a somewhat tense backdrop. Drug-related violence continues to rage in Mexico, with almost 35,000 people killed since Calderón took office in 2006. An U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was shot and killed two weeks ago on a road in Northern Mexico, reinforcing U.S doubts about Mexico's ability to handle and control violence. Add the acrimony from two more incendiary issues--resentment over the increasing anti-immigrant initiatives in the U.S. as well as the fallout from a Wikileaks cable release--and you've got a complex melange of issues for the two countries to work through. The United States faces increasing animosity south of the border as well: according to a BBC poll from last year, only 13% percent in Mexico had a positive view of United States' influence, the in the bottom four of 28 countries surveyed, along with Turkey, Pakistan, and Russia. So here's a quick rundown of where the two countries stand.
From the U.S. Perspective: Let's take a look at what we know about the U.S. view from the leaked State cables. They depicted "Mexico's armed forces and police agencies as inefficient, corrupt, riven by infighting and 'reliant on the United States for leads and operations,'" says the AP reporting from Mexico City. The killing of US Customs agent Zapata reinforced U.S. doubts about Mexico's ability to handle and control the violence. Washington currently spends millions of dollars supporting Mexico's fight against drug cartels.
From the Mexican Perspective: Mexico sees the United States as unwilling to address the twin problems of drug consumption and gun sales that Mexicans say fuels much of the illicit activity in their own country. The L.A. Times reports that around 85% of the guns seized by Mexican authorities come from the United States, and most recently, the AK-47 that was used to kill Zapata was reportedly purchased in Texas. John M. Ackerman, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the editor in chief of the Mexican Law Review, notes a general double standard that the U.S. applies to Mexico, in this case as it relates to the sale of firearms: While Congress accepts "basic reporting requirements for the purchase of handguns, often used in crimes in the U.S.," he says, "recent moves to reject similar requirements for assault weapons, principally used in crimes in Mexico, is...[an] obvious contradiction." The AP notes another, NAFTA-related issue: "Mexico continues to wait for the opening of U.S. highways to Mexican trucks, something it is entitled to" under the 1994 agreement signed between the two countries. Furthermore, the recent spate of anti-immigration legislation in the United States continues to anger many in Mexico, particularly proposals to deny the citizenship of children born in the United State to undocumented parents, adds the AP. And Ackerman adds that "incidents of U.S. border agents shooting or killing Mexicans, often for no apparent reason, are not uncommon," while "the number of deportations from the U.S. has risen sharply in recent years."
What Can Be Done?
A couple proposals floated in the past few weeks:
Regulate Firearm Sales: Ackerman argues for the prohibition on the sale of assault weapons-- the ban was allowed to expire in 2004 during the Bush administration--to be reinstated. At the very least, the L.A. Times suggests that the Obama administration support a request made by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco and Firearms and Explosives to increase the monitoring of high-powered weapons sales, requiring gun shops in border states to report the sale of two or more rifles of greater than .22 caliber purchased by the same person over the course of five days, a "sensible," and if anything "too-modest" plan.
Adjust the Approach to Drug Enforcement: The AP notes that "Calderón's most important meeting may be with the new U.S. House Speaker, Republican John Boehner, according to Pamela Starr, professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California," in what could be Mexico's best chance to defend "the $1.4 billion U.S. Merida Initiative anti-drug aid plan." According to Starr, Calderón "wants to make sure they don't cut the funding for Merida, in their zeal to cut," while Ackerman believes that these efforts could include a "wide-ranging policy of investment and economic development," as opposed to merely funds for "'social development' and law-enforcement-training programs."
Legalize Weed? Citing the fact that marijuana itself accounts for a large part of drug cartel income in Mexico, Ackerman suggets that "the reduction, or outright legalization, of the consumption of marijuana in the U.S," would be a important step forward. We're not holding our breath, ahem, for that one however. Maybe a more plausible plan would be for the U.S. "to encourage Mexican law enforcement to follow its example by focusing less on the transportation of marijuana and more on combating serious crimes," as Ackerman puts it.