President Barack Obama said the U.S. relationship with Mexico must be built on a shared economic future rather than old ideas and stereotypes that have hindered cooperation in the past.
Speaking to Mexican students and business leaders today, Obama made only passing reference to the border security concerns that have long been the focus of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. Instead, he focused on Mexico’s emerging economic strength and growing political power.
“It’s time to put old mindsets aside. It’s time to recognize new realities,” he said in a speech at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. “A new Mexico is emerging.”
Obama and Mexico’s new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, worked to avoid highlighting the most contentious issues in the relationship between the two neighbors and instead focused on deepening economic ties.
After his address, Obama was scheduled to meet privately with Mexican business leaders before leaving for Costa Rica for talks with President Laura Chinchilla and other Central American leaders.
Education has dominated Mexican politics as Pena Nieto has pressed to revamp the country’s school system.
Pena Nieto pushed through a constitutional amendment to ensure that teachers are hired and promoted on merit, a move that has sparked violent protests. The government also arrested on corruption charges the powerful head of the teachers’ union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who was long considered to be untouchable.
Obama said he will work with Pena Nieto to expand trade, educational exchanges and joint economic ventures. He also said he would work with Congress to change U.S. immigration laws and stem the flow of firearms from the U.S. into Mexico by trying again to pass gun control measures, which failed to win support in Congress last month.
“In this relationship there is not senior partner or junior partner,” he said. “We are two equal partners -- two sovereign nations that must work together in mutual interest and mutual respect.”
Since taking office in December, Pena Nieto has been working to change the country’s image from one of violent drug wars to one of industrial growth.
The U.S. president said today that he recognizes the “root cause of much of the violence” in Mexico is the demand for illicit drugs in the U.S. He said legalizing those drugs is not the answer.
Obama said the U.S. will keep up its close cooperation with Mexico in battling drug trafficking and organized crime, even as Pena Nieto limits access by U.S. security agencies.
Pena Nieto is transferring responsibility for his country’s fight against drug cartels and organized crime to the Interior Ministry, a move billed as emphasizing prevention.
At a joint news conference with Pena Nieto yesterday, both leaders sought to diminish differences between their governments.
Pena Nieto declined to comment on the debate in Washington over immigration law. The effort is a top priority for Democrat Obama and it faces opposition from many Republicans in Congress.
“Mexico understands that this is a domestic affair for the U.S. and we wish you the best,” he said.