US president Barack Obama expressed strong support for Mexico’s “war on drugs” during a joint press conference in Washington, DC on March 3 with Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinijosa. “I have nothing but admiration for President Calderón and his willingness to take this on,” Obama said, referring to Calderón’s militarization of the fight against drug trafficking since he took office in December 2006. Some 35,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since then, and many Mexicans reject the militarization strategy.
The US “will support [Calderón] in any ways we can to help him achieve his goals, because his goals are our goals as well,” Obama said, promising that the US would speed up the delivery of military assistance under the Mérida Initiative program, do more to stop the flow of weapons from the US to Mexican drug traffickers, and focus more on using education, prevention and treatment to cut down the demand for drugs in the US. However, the only substantive agreements that came out of the meeting were aimed at ending a longstanding dispute over access to the US by Mexican truckers. Negotiators are expected to come up with a draft agreement soon to allow trucking by Mexican carriers—as provided for in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which went into effect in 1994. (New York Times, March 3)
When the Mexican government announced on Feb. 23 that Calderón would be visiting Washington a week later, the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada speculated that the purpose was damage control after several embarrassments for the Mexican president. One was the killing of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata on Feb. 14 while he and another US immigration agent were driving from Monterrey, Nuevo León, to Mexico City. Another problem for Calderón was La Jornada’s publication, starting on Feb. 10, of a series of secret US diplomatic cables from the WikiLeaks group. A number of the cables showed growing doubts among US diplomats over the efficacy of the same “drug war” that Obama praised on March 3, as did cables published by the Spanish daily El País in December. (LJ, Feb. 24)
Adding to Calderón’s difficulties, three US cables from 2006 suggested a remarkably close relationship between US diplomats and Calderón as he was running for the presidency. A classified Jan. 18 cable describes a meeting of Calderón with then-US ambassador Antonio O. Garza, Jr. and others on Jan. 10, shortly before Calderón’s campaign officially started. The future president was concerned that the “negative spin on migration in the Mexican press”—Mexican anger over plans to extend a fence on the US side of the border and a harsh anti-immigrant bill sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI)—would help the center-left coalition candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, widely known as “AMLO.” Calderón explained that “[h]e couldn’t allow AMLO to take one vote on the migration issue, and would have to speak out against a ‘border wall’ as well.” Garza agreed that “[c]ertainly it was politic to reject the border fence.” (LJ, Feb. 21)
The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) declared Calderón the winner in the July 2 election by a minuscule margin; López Obrador promptly denounced the results as fraudulent and led massive protests in Mexico City. Calderón and Garza met on Aug. 2 at Calderón’s request, “primarily to express thanks for President [George W.] Bush’s early and friendly congratulatory call,” according to a confidential Aug. 4 cable. “Calderon expressed his regret about the ongoing PRD protests (which have blocked key arteries leading to the embassy’s neighborhood).”
When Calderón and Garza met again on Aug. 29, there was little question that the electoral court, the Electoral Tribunal of the Judicial Branch of the Republic (TEPJF), would uphold the IFE’s declaration of Calderón’s victor, but Garza’s classified Sept. 1 cable shows his concern about Calderón’s situation. “Calderón will come into office Dec. 1 in the weakest possible situation politically,” Garza wrote. “We risk stagnation on our highest-profile issues unless we can send a strong signal of support, prompt the Calderón team into a vigorous transition, and reinforce Calderón’s agenda and leadership…. I recommend that President Bush make a second call to Calderón once the TEPJF results are released, offering formal congratulations on his victory. At that point my mission team will engage energetically with Calderón’s transition team to invigorate progress on our priority areas.”
Garza didn’t try to hide his contempt for López Obrador and the Mexican left. He referred to the protests against suspected electoral fraud as “AMLO’s harassment,” “AMLO’s dramatic gesticulations” and “his constant barrage of attacks.” The leftist candidate was “increasingly inconsiderate and obstructive,” Garza wrote. (LJ, Feb. 21)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 6.