Obama and Calderon squander special opportunity to resolve crises
Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Updated: Thursday, March 17, 2011 12:03
Last Thursday, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico flew to Washington for what could have been a pivotal meeting regarding immigration and the drug war. The public, however, didn't learn anything new from the meeting. The United States will continue to support Calderon's draconian crackdown on drug violence and will take "its share of the blame" by educating Americans about drug prevention. These "efforts," the two presidents agreed, will create a stronger relationship—one intertwined with trade and benefits for the nations' elite. Neither side took the opportunity to suggest a possible solution to the looming dilemmas. Maybe, just maybe, if Calderon implemented plans to create more opportunities in his country, the United States and Mexico could alleviate the crises they face.
The United States-Mexico relationship recently took a hard hit from WikiLeaks cables that suggest the United States questions the courage and professionalism of the Mexican army in combating drug cartels. This infuriated Calderon. After the meeting, Obama stated in a press conference: "Remember, Mexico is the second largest market for American exports." Obama knows his administration must proceed with caution and a heightened sense of respect when interacting with Calderon if it wants to maintain that business arrangement.
To prove that some sort of concrete development resulted from the meeting, the leaders divulged a new trucking plan. The passage of NAFTA in 1994 eliminated many rules on truckers' cross-border operations, but the United States had not kept to this agreement because of concerns that the truckers failed to meet safety and environmental standards. In response to this, Mexico increased tariffs on many American products. Under the new proposal, Mexico would reduce tariffs once Mexican carriers are granted operating authority. Calderon said in the press conference that he hoped "North America in its entirety [would be] the most competitive region in the world."
It's mind-boggling that the two presidents would discuss trucking before they would consider logical, achievable plans to create more opportunity in Mexico. Better jobs and opportunities would maintain a good chunk of the labor force in Mexico (building infrastructure) and also would deter poor, bored men, women and youth from accepting the hard cash that overflows from drug cartel operations while avoiding taxes and carrying a cool, big gun.
Calderon needs to give Mexicans more reasons to stay in their country. President Obama, instead of walking on eggshells, must pressure his southern neighbor and not be worried about losing business deals. These actions would lighten the weight of immigration and drug violence issues for both administrations.
Those who disagree may point to Mexico's high GDP (over $1 trillion) and its position as the world's number seven producer of oil. The country has developed free trade agreements with over 50 countries since the implementation of NAFTA. However, these figures skim over Mexico's reality. Just under half of the population lives in poverty. Minimum wage is about $4.50 per day. Most families struggle just to buy their basic food staple, the tortilla, which has seen a dramatic increase in price since the beginning of Calderon's administration.
Mexico is not as developed as both Mexico and the United States insist it is. Many of the tall, beautiful skyscrapers in the heart of Mexico City are foreign-owned, and various movements arose after NAFTA's passage to assert that Mexico is not a developed nation and should not be on the same economic playing field with the United States. Ross Perot, a presidential candidate in opposition to NAFTA in the early 90s, said that "the wage disparity between Mexican and American workers is the largest of any two countries who have ever proposed a trade agreement. That gives Mexico an unfair advantage and keeps Mexican workers living in squalor." Almost 20 years later, that claim has swung full circle and the widespread poverty in Mexico suggests that free-trade agreements have not accomplished a single thing for Mexicans.
So as long as Obama and Calderon speak highly of their great relationship and make what President Obama refers to as "plans for a 21st century border, so people and goods can cross securely and efficiently," but still refuse to make concrete plans for solving economic and drug-related issues in Mexico, then the two leaders can expect thousands of more deaths due to drug violence and many more circular debates on mending a broken immigration system.