During the previous administration, Vicente Fox viewed the first encounter with now ex-President George W. Bush extra-optimistically, based on the marketing image of two rancher friends. That was when Foreign Secretary Jorge G. Castañeda boasted of having in his pocket the best immigration agreement ever conceived, the famous “whole enchilada,” when, to ingratiate themselves with the neoconservatives in Washington, the PAN party members brought the historically balanced Mexico-Cuba relationship to the brink, along with other diplomatic disasters.
The mirage of rancher friends vanished almost immediately, and not just because Fox-related plans were delayed by September 11, 2001. Mexico continued to be, for the Bush administration, the same backyard it has always been.
Now, despite the qualitative shift represented by the new White House resident, Felipe Calderón is forced to view his relationship with Barack Obama from a far more modest perspective. As he told one of his aides: “This isn’t the time to talk about enchiladas, or anything like that.” The portrayal of a good neighbor, delivered here less than three weeks ago by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, should be interpreted with caution and realism. A relationship of equals between Mexico and the superpower is an objective for which judgment remains reserved.
The 21-hour stay of President Obama in Mexico City, has been characterized as a working meeting. The popular president will arrive with a compact team of 12 collaborators. Secretary of State Clinton will not come; she is traveling directly to Port-of-Spain to refine details of the Summit of the Americas. And to be consistent, Los Pinos [Mexico's presidential residence] had to reduce the retinue that will have direct contact with the visiting group to 15 officials from Calderón’s immediate entourage. Here, there will not be events of protocol or parliamentary visits or ceremonies that parallel those held in Great Britain, Belgium or Turkey, and much less of a response by the masses like the one in which Obama starred in Berlin during his presidential campaign.
Nor is it expected that the meeting of Obama and Calderón will attain the same international relevancy of the meeting two months ago with Brazil’s President, Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva, in the Oval Office. Observers noted on that occasion, on March 12th in Washington, the rapprochement of a U.S. president with a dignitary who clearly holds hemispheric leadership. They did not only speak of the connection between the two individuals – the first working class person in the presidency of Brazil and the first black in power in the U.S. – but instead of matters of fundamental significance, such as the willingness of Obama to open a new chapter of understanding with Latin America. To that end, he chose Lula as a messenger and partner.
Lula, who long ago assumed regional leadership, displaced Mexico in the role this country had held for decades; he took a firm hold. He advised Obama, first, to test a new type of rapprochement with Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, the three governments that had been made favorite villains during the Bush era. Also, he demanded a cessation of the protectionist practices of the U.S. in commerce. And, regarding the G-20 summit, which was soon to take place, he recommended that wealthy nations attempt to repair the serious loss of credibility of the international financial system.
Is it realistic to imagine a similar tone in the voice of Felipe Calderón this Thursday? Probably not.
Today in Los Pinos and in the ministry, they speak of an agenda of five items, in which the new, prevailing leitmotif is shared responsibility. In an asymmetrical relationship, this signifies, overall, the cost that Mexico must pay to be considered a good neighbor.
It is inevitable that control of drug trafficking and violence will take first place on the list of issues. The stage was set for this discussion first during Hillary Clinton’s visit and later during the visits of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Other issues, some with priority for Mexico, are related, somehow, to the first. The bilateral issues of migration, sanitation along the northern border, security on the southern border, cooperation in the development of clean energy, and climate change will either move forward significantly or move little, depending on the feasibility of the first issue. Lamentably, regional and multilateral issues will remain outside the agenda.