Did you notice that President Obama visited Mexico this month, or were you too busy celebrating Cinco de Mayo, much to the delight of Mexican beer and tequila producers and distributors? I did my part, thanks to friendly neighbors who cranked up their margarita machine. Viva Mexico!
Although many Americans think Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, it isn’t. It celebrates a Mexican army victory over the French at Puebla in 1862. Most Mexicans ignore Cinco de Mayo and celebrate their independence Sept. 16.
So, what did our president accomplish south of the border?
I think the honest answer to that question is “not much,” although he did fly our flag and assure his hosts that we really, truly care about our neighbors to the south. He also campaigned for his controversial “comprehensive immigration reform” proposal, under discussion in Congress. That might be a hard sell after the conservative Heritage Foundation estimated that the proposal will cost U.S. taxpayers $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years.
According to The Associated Press, Obama told a predominantly student audience in Mexico City that the root of much violence in Mexico is the demand for drugs in the United States, and asserted that most guns used to commit crimes in Mexico come from the U.S.”
I agree with the first assertion and disagree with the second, although hundreds of guns poured into Mexico during the botched ATF “Fast and Furious” operation.
One basic problem in U.S.-Mexico relations is that they think about us all the time while we rarely think about them — except on Cinco de Mayo, or when a volcano blows its top. When I served in Mexico City many years ago, U.S. news usually dominated the front pages of Mexican newspapers. Meanwhile, we’ll do anything for Mexico and the rest of Latin America except read about that part of the world.
Mexicans react to this lopsided relationship with characteristic humor: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States,” they say. In reality, however, U.S.-Mexico relations seem to be improving. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that two-thirds of Mexicans now have a favorable impression of the U.S., compared with 44 percent in 2010, so we must be doing something right.
Obama and Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña-Nieto, agreed that we should stop stereotyping each other, but that’s easier said than done. “It’s time to recognize new realities,” Obama declared, and Peña-Nieto called for greater cooperation on trade issues. After all, Mexico is the second-largest market for our goods and services, while we buy more Mexican exports than any other country.
Nevertheless, Mexico is still our nation’s No. 1 source for illegal drugs, and a 2011 Justice Department report concluded that Mexican drug cartels represent the greatest organized crime threat to U.S. national security. Moreover, millions of Mexicans reside illegally in our country — more than 200,000 of them in Nevada — costing us billions of dollars. As a result, Nevada spends millions of our tax dollars on English as a Second Language programs in public schools. Think about it.
Guy W. Farmer is a longtime student of Mexico-U.S. relations.