By Ana Maria Salazar, El Financiero
Real life has finally caught up with U.S.-Mexico presidential meetings. The meeting this week between Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama at the White House reflected considerable changes in the bilateral issues that were discussed.
For the last 30 years, several issues which were hidden from the public agenda that is often released to the news media tended to dominate U.S.-Mexico talks. Those issues were: secure energy sources for the United States, the Cuban embargo, immigration, corruption, business links between both countries, trafficking of migrants–especially Central American migrants–,the treatment of Mexican migrants by U.S. authorities, the potential for terrorists to use Mexico as a back door into the United States, illegal arms trafficking and drug trafficking, and human rights abuses.
Looking at those themes and how both countries approached them at this latest meeting we come up with startling revelations on how the world has changed and how both countries reacted to those changes:
Immigration: For the last three decades this was the White Elephant in the meeting room. The United States refused to include the issue in past talks, arguing that it was an internal domestic problem and ignored the the changing demographics. Mexican officials, on the other hand, skirted around this issue and the country’s inability to provide economic opportunities for all its citizens, or to protect migrants from increased violence from organized crime gangs and corrupt government officials.
Today the reality is that 52 percent, almost 6 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. come from Mexico. And that under the new Obama policy, 44 percent of those Mexicans will qualify for legal status. This change was evidenced in a recent Pew Research Center study that reviewed 60 years of Border Patrol activity and found arrests of Mexican undocumented migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border driven to a historical low. The Border Patrol is today nabbing more migrants from other countries.
So this year, 2015, we face the incredible situation where the U.S. is more worried about the glitches that could result negotiating with the Mexican government to process the millions of Mexican immirants who will be legalizing their residence in the United States.
Energy: This issue also went away. In the past, the U.S. always wanted to be reassured that it would continue to have access to energy sources in Mexico. But since 2012, domestic oil production in the United States has reached its highest levels in 15 years. And U.S. dependency on foreign oil sources hit its lowest point in two decades.
Bilateral commercial conflicts have not disappeared, but after two decades since NAFTA was implemented, these issues make little dent in the bilateral discussions.
Cuban Embargo: And lastly, one of the thorniest issues in U.S.-Mexico relations, the Cuban embargo, disappeared as if by magic. Now Mexico has to assume an awkward position and be part of the triparty negotiation over maritime territorial limits in the Gulf of Mexico.
Lastly, there are other issues that once were dominant. Drug trafficking remains of concern for the U.S., but not with the same level of importance as a decade ago, because cocaine consumption in the United States has gone down, and marijuana consumption is being legalized in many states.
On the Mexican side, a major change occurred. It was surprising to see the Mexican government’s reaction to critical comments from U.S. human rights organizations and other civic groups on Mexico’s human rights record and its inability to control violent organized crime groups. Ten years ago, the government would have unleashed histrionic campaigns against those denunciations by U.S. groups and the U.S. government, where Mexico would have invalidated the moral credentials of its critics.
The situation Mexico faces at the moment, however makes it difficult for the Mexican Government to defend itself by questioning the moral qualities of the accusers. It was an interesting sign of maturity to see that the Mexican government stopped short of wrapping itself in false nationalism to defend itself from critical viewpoints.