Americas Quarterly, Summer 2009

The new U.S. administration probably did not expect to focus as much attention on Mexico early in the term, but it is hard to remember a period of such intense activity between the two countries. President Barack Obama has already met with President Felipe Calderón twice. Three U.S. cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have traveled to Mexico City, and there have been at least seven congressional trips and a dozen congressional hearings focused on the United States’ southern neighbor.

The flurry of high-level diplomacy should surprise no one. Rising violence in Mexico, fueled in part by the Mexican crackdown on drug-trafficking cartels, is a dire security threat to both countries. The resulting press coverage reshuffled priorities in both countries.

On drug violence, the two governments have agreed to cooperate on tracking narcotics traffickers whose operations span both sides of the border and to work together on prosecutions. The U.S. has offered to strengthen its existing justice assistance programs, including helping to modernize courts and police forces in Mexico. Perhaps most significantly, it has agreed to crack down on the flow of drug money, as well as the arms smuggling trade, which some Mexicans argue has been, along with the unchecked U.S. demand for narcotics, a prime contributor to Mexico’s drug violence and corruption.