The format of state visits in the American Union doesn't change over the years. What changes is the warmth of the reception, and in that sense, this visit from president Calderón can be compared with very few in recent history. It is obvious that the Obama administration has sought to achieve much more than just a gesture toward Mexico in a moment that stands out because of the fluidity of the bilateral relationship, but which is contaminated by the violence at the border and the anti-immigration law in Arizona. In this context, it was necessary to highlight the points of agreement and the construction of what is like, as Obama and Calderón pointed out over and over again, the beginning of a new era when it comes to relationships.
This visit was marked by three fundamental subjects: security, migration and the possibilities of greater economic integration, a subject that always ends up overshadowed by the others. Neither Calderón nor Obama specified the measures that will be taken to strengthen the border security schemes, setting aside the repeated commitments to work on firearm trafficking, money coming from the U.S, violence and the drug gangs on the Mexican side.
But above the fog of words and statements, what is being outlined is a strategy in terms of more global security, and starting to correlate the different chapters into a whole: the struggle in Mexico with drug cartels and the anti-drug cooperation (the one Americans keep on publicly pointing out is the Mérida Initiative, even though it's much bigger today, just like Obama acknowledged, especially when it comes to subjects such as exchange of information and intelligence), and a much more concerted effort is starting to form at the U.S. border to stop the trafficking of arms (money trafficking is said to have stopped but there's no evidence to prove it). At the same time, the E.U. strategy of reducing drug consumption is close to the idea of reducing the entry of drugs into this country. Theoretically speaking, it's a circle that would have to be virtuous and that will have to show results sooner, rather than later. But all this will be confronted in the American elections in November.
This is why, even though the two presidents have been very hard opponents of the anti-immigration law in Arizona, the idea has to go further. Somehow Obama acknowledged this when he said that the law is also a consequence of the U.S. federal government’s having failed this entity [Arizona] when it comes to guaranteeing a secure border, a term that president Calderón also used at every opportunity, to encourage, the president said, a "dignified, legal and orderly" migration.
Obama insisted that the future migration law has to be a process that goes both ways, with flexibility from the United States to legalize illegal immigrants, but which also ensures that they meet certain requirements: If not already done, they should pay taxes for the amount of time they've worked in the U.S. illegally, obey the laws and speak English. At the same time, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the Arizona law because it violates basic civil rights. Obama was mainly talking about migration from Mexico, but he was also talking about his internal electorate, recalling that over half of the U.S. population supports tough laws like the one in Arizona when it comes to this subject. Revolving around these concepts, of a new era, of bonds and especially of a secure border on both sides, turns out to be an interesting and feasible formula.
It is striking that, even though the subject was addressed insistently, the steps toward economic integration aren't quite complete yet because there's no real strategic definition. Both Obama and Calderón talked about the subject, highlighting the trade possibilities. The Mexican president even talked about moving forward so North America would be the "most competitive and wealthy region in the world," but discussions still lack precision, definitions and know-how. And in Mexico we have neither the law nor the political will power to make one, while the E.U., in several of its elite countries, seems to be lacking the vision to push it forward.
However, it will be difficult to remember a visit marked by warmth greater than reflected in this one, something Obama knows how to transmit very well with words, but also with his body language. A visit that ends today, Thursday, when president Calderón speaks to both houses of Congress. It is an opportunity that occurs rarely and that should not be taken for granted.
Edited by Alex Brewer