Drug War In Focus As Mexican President Visits U.S.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon i i

Mexican President Felipe Calderon arrives in Washington for two days of talks with President Obama and other U.S. officials. Guillermo Arias/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Guillermo Arias/AP
Mexican President Felipe Calderon

Mexican President Felipe Calderon arrives in Washington for two days of talks with President Obama and other U.S. officials.

Guillermo Arias/AP

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for the start of a state visit in which insecurity in Mexico and Calderon's drug war are likely to be high on the agenda.

Calderon needs a good news story right now. He arrives in the halls of Washington at a time when criticism of his deadly drug war is increasing dramatically, his political party is faltering and the Mexican economy is attempting to claw its way back after the global economic meltdown of 2009.

'In Search Of Recognition'

Calderon has staked his political career on fighting the powerful Mexican drug cartels and disrupting the flow of narcotics to the United States. That fight has left some 24,000 people dead in Mexico since Calderon took office in December 2006. Kidnapping and extortion by the cartels is also on the rise, and there appears to be no end in sight to the violence.

"I think he's going to Washington in search of recognition, in search of a pat on the back, in search of Obama's recognition that this has not been a futile war, that it's worth waging and that he has the U.S.'s support in his endeavors," said Denise Dresser, a professor of political science at the Technological Autonomous Institute of Mexico in Mexico City.

That support from Washington includes roughly $1 billion under the Merida Initiative to help Mexico fight the cartels.

White House officials say this visit by Calderon shows how important Mexico is to the Obama administration and underscores the strong ties between the two countries.

The U.S. is by far Mexico's largest trading partner. Some 10 million Mexicans live both legally and illegally north of the border. But Dresser said that throughout history Mexico has felt underappreciated and insecure in its relationship with the United States. And that's still the case, she said.

"Mexico has really not been on the front burner of U.S. foreign policy concerns since Obama was elected," Dresser said. "So I think this is a visit that Calderon needs more than President Obama does."

Arizona Immigration Law

Calderon is expected to use the visit to denounce the new anti-immigration law in Arizona. His administration has already called it xenophobic and a threat to Mexicans living in or traveling to the border state. Mexico even issued a travel warning for Arizona, and there are calls for an economic boycott.

Calderon will also probably bring up how U.S. demand for cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana and other narcotics is fueling the gruesome drug war in his country.

During a visit to Spain this week, Calderon remarked that Mexico has the unfortunate fate of having the largest drug-consuming nation in the world as its neighbor. And, he said, if he stopped his fight against the cartels tomorrow, all of these murderous drug traffickers wouldn't just turn into "saints" overnight.

Speaking on Spanish television, Calderon also insisted that Mexico is a safe place to do business. He noted that Spanish firms of all sizes do business in the country.

During this trip to Washington, Calderon will also be angling for more U.S. investment in Mexico.

Andrew Selee, the director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, says Mexico-watchers are not expecting any fireworks or bold new initiatives to be announced during this state visit.

"This is a symbolic moment where U.S. politicians are recognizing that Mexico is an important country for America's future," Selee said. "I think if nothing else that is the take-away from this visit."

And, Selee said, Calderon and Obama can be expected to talk about "partnership" and "shared responsibility" between these two neighbors.

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