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Special 031609 Bassett

Monday, March 16, 2009


U.S. Diplomat Commends & Supports Mexican Government


By Leslie Bassett, Chargé d'affaires, U.S. Embassy-Mexico


The Obama Administration has been in office for six weeks, and it seems that almost daily a new Administration voice offers a view on our wide-ranging bilateral relationship.  It is no secret that the U.S. and Mexico have a mature, profound relationship that spans many issues on which we agree, and a range of others on which we continue a dialogue.  Then President-elect Obama sent the world, as well as his cabinet-in-waiting, a strong signal when, on January 13, 2009, he held his one and only pre-inaugural meeting with a foreign leader – Mexican President Felipe Calderon.  While such a meeting has been a part of our bilateral tradition, the Obama Administration takes nothing for granted and clearly intended to signal Mexico's importance to the United States.  After his inauguration, President Obama made his first foreign visit to Canada, sending another strong signal about the priority role hemispheric issues will have on his agenda. 


In these first six weeks of the new Administration, many newly-appointed U.S. officials have spoken on the record about the relationship with Mexico; specifically, our shared effort with Mexico to confront organized criminal networks which rely on U.S. narcotics markets for profits, purchase their firepower from U.S. vendors, and move bulk cash through U.S. territory.  Why?  Because working successfully with Mexico is a fundamental priority not just for the early months of the Obama Administration, but certainly for its entire duration. 


Our broad bilateral agenda prompts comment on such a diverse range of issues that sometimes the common denominator in every speech, every report, and every alert is taken for granted.  It shouldn't be.  That common denominator is:  The U.S. accepts its shared responsibility on issues of mutual concern, maintains an excellent dialogue with Mexico across the breadth of our agenda, intends to continue to work as a partner with Mexico, and respects President Calderon’s leadership and commitment.  No Obama appointee has referred to Mexico as a failed state; every Obama appointee posed the question has acknowledged the existing security challenges, commended President Calderon’s fortitude, and dismissed the idea out of hand. 


During the February 25 announcement of 750 arrests under Operation Xcelerator, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated: "In the face of internationalized crime, there are no more important partners than our law-enforcement counterparts abroad. And I particularly want to thank our counterparts in Mexico for their important support in this operation…. The Mexican government has been courageous during the last two years to directly confront the drug trafficking cartels. And I stand before you today to say that we are ready and willing to continue the fight, with our Mexican counterparts, against these violent enterprises."


Department of State Assistant Secretary David Johnson echoed this theme during the February 27 release of the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report when he said, "What I can tell you … is that we are firm in our efforts to work with Mexico. We consider this a partnership with them."  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said it again during an interview with "Meet the Press" on March 1, "… what I think people need to point out is the courage that Calderon has shown in taking this on."


Just in the last weeks, two important congressional delegations from the House of Representatives visited Mexico City and reiterated their support for the broad range of reforms and initiatives launched by President Calderon.  The leader of one of those delegations, Rep. Eliot Engel, told the press, “I want to again on behalf of the delegation commend President Calderon for his extraordinary decision to fight the drug cartels, to fight current violence in Mexico, to fight drugs in Mexico, and we will do our part as well.”


It is reasonable to expect early visits by Obama Administration cabinet members who seek to strengthen our bilateral engagement on the broad range of issues of mutual concern.  People ask whether they will come here, given the State Department travel alert on Mexico.  Let me clarify that our alert is meant to provide background to potential U.S. travelers so they can make informed decisions about where and when to travel.  And as one informed traveler, U.S. Department of State Spokesman Robert Wood, put it last week, "Mexico is a wonderful place to travel. I travel there quite a bit myself and see no reason to try to tell Americans that they shouldn’t travel to Mexico. Not at all."


As you see, the new administration speaks with many voices, but the message is one: of commitment, shared responsibility and admiration for the fight the Calderon Administration is waging against organized crime.



Leslie Bassett is Chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City; Embassy News and Information, U.S. Embassy – Mexico, March 5, 2009.  This op-ed commentary originally appeared, in Spanish, in Mexico's Grupo Reforma newspapers.

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