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Drugs Displace Immigration as Top U.S. Concern in U.S.-Mexico Relations

Interviewee: Joe Contreras, Former Latin America Bureau Chief, Newsweek
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson, News Editor, CFR.org
April 17, 2009

Mexico's drug cartels are waging a battle against government forces that is increasingly crossing over the northern border into the United States. President Barack Obama visited Mexico on April 16 and signaled the U.S. intention to assume more responsibility for helping Mexico win its war against the cartels. But Joe Contreras, former Latin America editor for Newsweek and author of In the Shadow of the Giant: The Americanization of Modern Mexico, says initial U.S. commitments fall short. Contreras says although Obama told Mexican President Felipe Calderon that he would push for the Senate ratification of an inter-American regional arms treaty, Calderon had hoped Obama would renew an assault weapons ban in place under President Bill Clinton, which expired in 2004 after attempts to extend it by Congress failed. Obama promised the renewal of the ban during his campaign, and Mexican officials argue it is critical to stemming the southbound flow of guns across the border. "It's still too early to determine with any sense of reliability or certitude just what kind of new direction U.S. cooperation may take with regard to the drug problem," Contreras says.

While Obama was in Mexico, Calderon raised the issue of immigration reform. However, "there is no expectation that immigration is going to move to the top of [Obama's] agenda in relations with Mexico," Contreras says. Calderon "wants to move on two tracks with the United States," but "based on what President Obama said yesterday in Mexico City, that is going to have a low priority." On April 9, the New York Times reported that Obama would seek to place immigration reform on the legislative agenda as early as this fall, but in Mexico City, Obama only spoke of immigration in general terms (ChiTrib). While Mexico is an important partner for the United States in Latin America, Contreras notes that Brazil might rival Mexico for U.S. attention in the region.

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