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Column 101606 Wall

Monday, October 16, 2006

 

Mexico’s Future President Tours Latin America

 

By Allan Wall

 

During the first week of October, from the 2nd to the 6th, Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon made a whirlwind tour of Latin America.

 

It was an impressive itinerary. Calderon visited Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.  The tour enabled the president-elect to develop regional contacts, which should stand him in good stead after taking office.

 

With Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Calderon discussed the problem of the drug trade, and with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva a possible joint venture between state oil companies, Mexico’s Pemex and Brazil’s Petrobras.

 

And way down south in Santiago, Chile, Calderon encountered two Mexicans who had shown up to protest him.

 

U.S. immigration policy was a constant topic of the tour. In several of the countries Calderon bashed the proposed wall planned for the U.S.-Mexican border.  At a summit in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Calderon and representatives of seven countries in the region condemned the wall.


This is typical of Mexican politicians however, for whom bashing U.S. immigration policy is always a favorite topic.  But Calderon also discussed Mexican immigration policy, usually ignored by Mexican politicians.

 

In 2005, Mexico detained and deported over 240,000 illegal aliens from its own territory. Most of these deportees were from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, all three of which are poorer than Mexico. (In Tegucigalpa, all three of those countries joined with Calderon to criticize the border wall).

 

In Guatemala, Calderon presented his vision for the future of the Mexico-Guatemala border: “I want a border that unites Guatemala with Mexico, to open the way to brotherhood between both countries, to categorically close it to drugs, weapons, and criminality – which is in the interests of both countries.”

 

It’s an interesting proposal, but of course there would be a lot of details to work out.  The very concept of a “united border” is problematic, since by definition a border divides nations. Therefore, any sort of “united border” implies some sort of international union.

 

But at least Calderon deserves credit for taking up the subject, usually ignored by Mexican politicians.  But not being president yet, it’s impossible to know how he will enact these proposals.

 

Does Calderon’s Latin American coming out tour reveal a tilt toward the region in Mexican foreign policy?

 

In Guatemala, Calderon stated that, “My government clearly understands that the human, cultural and historical calling of Mexico is with Latin America. We will be a government that looks to all parts of the world, not a government trapped in the gaze toward the north [the U.S.A.], but a government that looks clearly and decidedly toward the south [the rest of Latin America], which is our region, our identity, our root and a good part of our future.”

 

And in Chile Calderon said that, “my government will look clearly toward the south [i.e. the rest of Latin America], because I am a president (sic) with a profound Latin American conviction and I know that Mexico, independently of its economic links and its position and history with the U.S., is a Latin American country and has to exercise and assume its responsibility in the regional equilibrium of Latin America.”


Calderon seems to be signaling here some kind of tilt toward Latin America.  But is this just public relations rhetoric or a real policy?

 

Culturally Mexico is part of Latin America, but economically it is closely linked to the United States.  Mexican trade with the United States dwarfs that of Mexican trade with the rest of the world (including Latin America) put together.  The North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, intensifies this trade relationship.

 

The mass immigration of the past few decades (and the political maneuvering that goes with it) has produced a situation in which the majority of the Mexican population has relatives living in the U.S.A.

 

If you look at a map you can easily see the geographical challenge. Mexico has a long border with the U.S., almost 2,000 miles, but a short border with Guatemala and an even shorter one with Belize (which is an officially English-speaking nation anyway).

 

Nevertheless, none of these factors prevent Mexico from strengthening its relations with the rest of Latin America. And if that is truly an objective of Felipe Calderon, then as president he ought to pursue it.

 

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Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.  He currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991. He can be reached via e-mail at allan39@prodigy.net.mx.