Obama Visit to Mexico

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Carlos Flores-Vizcarra, Consul General of Mexico in Phoenix, and Magda Hinojosa, ASU Associate Political Science Professor, talk about President Obama’s visit to Mexico, the fight to end drug cartel violence, and the U.S. relationship with other Latin American countries.

Jose Cardenas
>>> President Obama traveled to Mexico for talks with President Philippe Calderón. Among the issues they talked about were immigration and the growing flow of drugs and weapons across the border. The president went to the summit of the Americas, a gathering of leaders of 34 nations in the western hemisphere. Joining me is political science professor Magda Hinojosa, and the Phoenix consul general of Mexico, Carlos Flores Vizcarra. Welcome.

Magda Hinojoa
>> Thank you.

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> Thank you

Jose Cardenas
>> Thank you.

Jose Cardenas
>> There seems to be a marked difference between at least in the level of attention, that the Obama administration is paying to Mexico and points South, than in the Bush administration. Would you agree?

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> You know, sometimes compassions are not revealed the reach of policies. And I believe that comparing what is being done now could be understood as you mentioned it, but I believe this is something like a fresh start for two heads of state that will be together for the coming four years. And President Obama's visit to Mexico was very well received, and I think that they have set the tone for the mutual relationship for the coming four years.

Jose Cardenas
>> You're talking about setting the tone, it actually began during the campaign with commitments that were made, and now he seems to be coming through on those commitments, being the -- entertaining the President Calderón as the first visitor to Mexico, or his first visit to a foreign state. And some other activities. How would you describe the differences, at least in terms of significance?

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> I would say that apparently the learning curve for American -- the high officers have been very fast learned. And I think they have gotten a grasp of what Mexico really represents for U.S. interests, and I have -- I tend to believe that we're off to a very good start. And a very particular issues that were addressed were in a way framed out for future working sessions.

Jose Cardenas
>> I want to come back and ask some specifics about the visit, but before I do, Professor Hinojosa, your sense of the nature of the relationship, at least in these preliminary stages?

Magda Hinojosa
>> I would agree with the consul that what we're seeing is a very positive relationship, a very important first step in opening up talks and stressing the importance of Mexico to the United States. I think for the last few years the importance of that relationship had really been undermined. There hadn't been nearly enough focus on Mexico in particular, but Latin America in general. So it's nice to see that the United States is setting the right tone, allowing the region to express itself, and stressing the importance of that relationship to the United States.

Jose Cardenas
>> Comparing President Bush, he got things off to what seemed to be a promising start in his meeting with president fox, they were talking about immigration, and then 9-11. Do you see anything that -- coming up down road that might have the same impact of just knocking things off track and Mexico kind of being relegated to a less important status?

Magda Hinojosa
>> I think if you contextualize what's going on, Obama is actually dealing with an awful lot. The current economic crisis could have made it easy for him to say, you know, we'll deal with Mexico after we get this on track. And he's not doing that. He's managing to have an awful lot of balls in the air. And I think that's important.

Jose Cardenas
>> Tell us about that visit, begin with the preliminary visits by high-ranking American officials.

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> That is also very relevant. In the past, let's say, 90 days, we've had the visit of secretary of state Clinton, of secretary of homeland security Napolitano, and also the head of the joint chiefs of staff. And then came the visit of President Obama that wasn't longer than a day. It was just a brief visit, it was basically holding talks with president Calderón, and also meeting with high Mexican officials, and also a very good representative group of business leadership in Mexico.

Jose Cardenas
>> What were the concrete results of that meeting?

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> Basically they set up the framework for a high-level working group on immigration issues. Which is very important. They discussed in detail what's going on at the border, and the concerns that Americans have in order to secure their southern border. And the effort that Mexico has done during the past, let's say, 18 months, in terms of fighting an all-out war against cartels, the drug cartels, is something that must be on America's interests. Fighting drugs in Mexico is on the benefit for the U.S. Also I think that a very important issue that was discussed was the clean energy initiative that Mexico was formulating beforehand, and also a relative agreement on energy cooperation.

Jose Cardenas
>> Can you tell us a little bit more about the energy initiatives?

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> Well, the energy initiative has to do with opening up the Mexican oil industry and the gas industry to international companies, corporations. And also about the changes that have to be done and are on the Obama agenda in order to make the conversion of fossil fuel, based economic engine into a more green and more energy conserving ways of doing it.

Jose Cardenas
>> As a result of the same kinds of economic impacts we're having here.

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> That is correct.

Jose Cardenas
>> Professor Hinojosa, you are a student of the Mexican revolution, and now the oil industry is almost a sacred cow in Mexico. It's embodied in the constitution in terms of ownership of the nation in mineral rights, recent attempts to open up the oil industry to foreign investments have met with stiff resistance. What do you see coming out of these most recent discussions?

Magda Hinojosa

>> Well, it's hard to say. You're absolutely right, oil is sacred to Mexicans. There's a lot of national pride tied to the issue of oil. Certainly the idea of privatizing the industry is going to be very problematic. This is not unique to Mexico. All countries are proud of their natural assets. When you think about Bolivia, natural gas in Bolivia, that's brought down two presidents. The issue is a contentious one. This is not unique to Mexico. Oil to Chavez, extremely important to the Venezuelan people. These issues are not easy ones.

Jose Cardenas
>> What are we going to see?

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> The Mexican government and the Mexican-owned company will maintain the control over oil. But it will open up opportunities for companies to exploit -- to explore, and to bring in the technology that is needed in order to extract the new layers of oil fields that exist in the gulf, basically. And that -- Mexico cannot do it alone. That is where we'll have partnerships, future partnerships with American companies and international companies.

Jose Cardenas
>> Very quickly, because I want to move on to the summit of the Americas, but a couple of other aspects of the discussions had to do with two aspects of the drug wars. One is the joint operations between Mexican military and U.S. forces, and the other has to do with the whole problem of drugs -- of guns rather going south from the United States to Mexico.

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> What I think is that prior to this visit of the American president - Meetings between our two heads of state were more symbol call than practical. I believe they have set a tone of great transparency in their dialogue, and that is something that we should welcome. I think they've spoken about issues that are very important and relevant to us, like working at the border, which is described as the region by itself. - and they approved for the Mexican navy to conduct joint operation with the American navy and international waters, that's also a step ahead. If we are talking about security concerns for the region. So there's as whole host of new issues that were dealt with in a very direct way, and that will be discussed in the near future.

Jose Cardenas
>> What about weapons? President Obama upon his return said he is not going to seek reenactment of the assault weapons ban. Was any progress made in that?

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> absolutely. He committed himself to push for the ratification of a treaty that was set forth by the Clinton administration in 1997, and if it is ratified, that would be the needed tool to work in gun control issues with Mexico. Right now it is accepted over 90% of the fire power that is going into Mexico to furnish the drug cartels is coming from the United States. That has to be stopped they also spoke about controlling the southbound -- transportation and merchandise that go down to Mexico.

Jose Cardenas
>> The image of the summit is of president Chavez shaking hand and smiling with President Obama, but there was much more to it. Tell us about it.

Magda Hinojosa
>> Well, I think the take-home message here should be the very positive relations that the United States has opened up with Latin America. I think the United States showed itself to have a new face, obviously, embodied in president Obama. I think the amazing reception that he got by world leaders at the summit was spectacular. If we compare this to the previous summit, the fourth summit of the Americas in Argentina, there were protests, there was chaos, there was mayhem. This time we had a nice conference, everyone got to say their piece, there was just more openness than we would have expected. And that's great to see.

Jose Cardenas
>> Consul Flores, Cuba has always been a sore subject, and Mexico perhaps had refused in the past to see to American pressure to sever relationships. So I would think the Mexican government was probably pretty pleased at the gestures, overtures the Obama administration made to Cuba.

Carlos Flores Vizcarra
>> Yes, because what we believe seriously is that we have to have a dialogue. And that if we're serious about the region, we cannot let a void space become trophy pieces for other interests in a world that is changing. I'm saying -- what I'm saying is that we are advancing this globalization into a multipolar world, where the U.S. has to be more serious and more decided into looking into Latin America with more interest. And Cuba, of course, has already been through its different stages, but right now I think we have a good opportunity to discuss the future of Cuba-U.S. relationships alongside with Latin America.

Jose Cardenas
>> Professor Hinojosa, last question, do you foresee during the first term of the Obama administration, assuming there's a second, but at least during his first four years, normal relations between the U.S. and Cuba?

Magda Hinojosa
>> I don't, personally. There are been important steps made, but the fact Raul Castro said one thing, his brother Fidel said another, contradicting him really about how open Cuba would be to talking with the United States makes me think this is going to be a very cautious move on both sides. Not just on the side of the Americas -- the United States, but on the side also of Cuba. Cuba has the -- the regime has had a vested interest in having United States as an enemy. It has allowed Fidel Castro to justify all sorts of actions to blame the United States many times for the situation that Cubans live with on a daily basis. Both sides have their own agenda. I don't think either side will be clearly benefited by opening up relations immediately. It's going to be a lot slower than that.

Jose Cardenas
>> And we'll see what happens in the coming years. Thank you both for being on "Horizonte" tonight.

Magda Hinojosa
>> Thank you.

Carlos Flores-Vizcarra:Consul General of Mexico in Phoenix;Magda Hinojosa:ASU Associate Political Science Professor;

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