U.S.-Mexico relations: No spring break

Kipp Lanham Contributor
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Although families of workers for the United States Consulate have vacated Mexico after three Americans were killed leaving a birthday party, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet A. Napolitano have booked a trip there for next week.

Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano will be traveling to Mexico next week as part of the Merida U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group meeting with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

This comes after the U.S. State Department authorized families of U.S. government employees in several northern Mexico cities to exit the country until April 12.

The timing of the meeting in Merida comes at a tenuous time for foreign policy in the United States. Relations with Israel and Russia have been rough due to settlement and nuclear issues. President Barack Obama had to delay his trip to Indonesia and Australia due to health care legislation on the verge of potential passage in Congress. The State Department emphasized in a press release that the meeting had been previously planned over many months. Relations with Mexico only add to the difficulties as both sides try to overcome the shadow cast from the violence in Ciudad Juarez.

Espinosa and Clinton plan to discuss the “shared goals of breaking the power of drug trafficking organizations; strengthening the rule of law, democratic institutions and respect for human rights; creating a 21st century border; and building strong and resilient communities.” Excluded from these shared goals is resumption of the Cross-Border Trucking Services Demonstration Program as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Last year, the U.S. suspended this program unilaterally. In response, Mexico suspended trade benefits for a number of U.S. products. Mexico seeks that the U.S. comply with NAFTA and resume the Cross-Border Trucking Services Demonstration Program.

Is unilateralism the “smart power” enacted by the State Department under Secretary Clinton and President Obama? Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, commented in his recent column that the Obama Administration “has worse relations overall with American allies than George W. Bush did in his second term.” Kagan stated that U.S. foreign policy is becoming more neutrality rather than multilateralism. The results of this U.S. foreign policy with Russia, Iran, or Israel do smart. The new START treaty has yet to be signed. Iran continues on its path toward nuclear weapons without new sanctions from the United Nations. Secretary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden chastised for building homes in Jerusalem. What can be expected from the Merida meeting?

The focus of the meeting will most likely be on stopping the violence and drug trafficking rather than resetting trade relations. President Obama already appears confident in Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s efforts as he has been invited to a state dinner in May. Meanwhile, Congressmen from near the Texas-Mexico border have already been involved in talks with Mexico as they met with Arturo Sarukhan, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Congressman including Solomon P. Ortiz, Harry Teague, Silvestre Reyes, Ciro Rodriguez, Henry Cuellar and Ruben Hinojosa expressed their commitment to assisting Mexico with drug-related violence on the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. has also pledged around $1.4 billion in aid to Mexico to fight drug trafficking.

Violence towards U.S. offices in Mexico is rare. USA Today reported that in 2008 two men attacked a U.S. consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, with gunfire and a grenade which destroyed the building’s façade. Drug traffickers are suspected as responsible for the deaths last week in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico of three workers connected to the United States Consulate. The violence in Northern Mexico has contributed to lower trips from hunters and only adds to the series of problems that have affected tourism in Mexico the last few years including the swine flu and hurricanes.

If the U.S. repaired its trade agreements with Mexico, perhaps talks on border security and reducing drug trafficking might succeed instead of risking further delays. Also, the U.S. and Mexico delegations in Merida may want to consult Jesus Malverde, the patron saint for drug traffickers in Mexico, for advice on how to stop the violence.

Kipp Lanham is a political communications strategist who has worked on Capitol Hill and K Street as an intern and communications professional. Kipp has been published in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Hill.  Kipp graduated from American University’s School of Communication with a M.A. in Public Communication.