Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa and its Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhán were at Mexico City’s airport at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning to great the arrival of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration’s new era of bilateral relations. Both Clinton and Espinosa were ready to discuss areas of cooperation and move beyond the recent trade dispute—where Mexico imposed $2.4 billion of tariffs in response to the U.S. ending a pilot program (and caving into the Teamsters) allowing Mexican trucks to operate on U.S. roads—that had clouded bilateral relations in recent weeks.
But the excitement over Clinton’s visit extended far beyond her official meetings. Currently in Mexico City for a conference on immigration, I was able to coincide with the Secretary’s visit. And I can report that people around town had high expectations for what would come of her talks and those of future U.S. officials. Mexicans are rightly weary not just of the narco-violence but of U.S. media sensationalism of their country’s plight and the inaccurate label of a failed state.
On Wednesday, the front page of Mexico’s El Universal—one of the country’s most influential and widely read newspapers—was dedicated to President Barack Obama’s plans to step up border security and featured a special section on “Hillary’s Agenda.”
Clinton did not disappoint. She admitted to the role that the U.S. plays in feeding narcotraffickers: “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.” And beyond accepting co-responsibility, her joint press conference with Espinosa was remarkable for the overall warmness that could be seen between the two secretaries.
President Calderón also greeted Clinton at Los Pinos, where conversations focused on immigration and the upcoming G-20 meeting. Disappointing political pundits, no mention was made as to the potential U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Though shortly afterwards the White House announced that it was appointing former State Department official, Carlos Pascual, to the post. On Thursday, Secretary Clinton heads closer to the border with a visit to Monterrey.
But the real question now is what measures the United States will take to stop the flow of guns into Mexico. Stepped up border security is one thing. But people and goods can always find ways to exploit security gaps. The key issue here is how to prevent arms from the rising number of border area gun shops from getting into the hands of criminals. In just Arizona and New Mexico alone, the high demand for arms supports the operation of roughly 6,700 legal gun shops. It’s no surprise who many of the clients are for these shops. And according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the 90 percent of weapons seized from Mexican drug cartels can come from states as far north as Connecticut. Clearly, the violence in Mexico is an opportunity for much-needed, stricter gun laws across the United States.
With Clinton’s visit and warm reception, the Obama administration has raised hopes for a horizontal, engaging bilateral relationship. Mexicans will have high expectations for the President himself, when he arrives on April 16.