President Obama's first stop on his tour of Latin America is Mexico City, where he met with Mexican President Enrique Nieto Thursday afternoon.
This Latin American tour is Obama's way of assuring businessmen and trade leaders of his administration’s commitment to economic growth in North America and of symbolically highlighting the familial and cultural ties many Americans have with these countries.
President Obama and President Nieto share a comfortable relationship. Nieto visited the White House in November as a friendly gesture before he took office, and Vice-President Biden attended Nieto's inauguration, which only occurs when, in Obama’s words, "the [receiving] country is at the top of the list [of priorities]."
That being said, one of the main issues Obama hopes to address on this trip is Nieto's new policy that limits interaction between Mexican and U.S. law enforcement agencies to just one office. Nieto's predecessor, Calderon, allowed across-the-board communication and information-sharing, which the U.S. utilized extensively to help fight drug cartels in Mexico. The violence in Mexico has hardly abated since its peak in 2010, with over 55,000 Mexicans killed in the last six years alone, and the U.S.'s $1.9 billion in aid seems crucial to the region. Yet, Nieto seems to be trying to limit U.S. oversight of governmental operations across the border, a move which both U.S. policy officials and human rights activists find very troubling.
Outside of this one limited issue, however, Obama is heeding the Mexican government's calls to put economic and trade relations back at the forefront of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. As our neighbor and one of our largest trading partners, Mexico's economy is intrinsically linked to the U.S.'s well-being. And yet many of NAFTA's promises of more jobs and more stability for Mexico have yet to truly materialize. Some security analysts are also pushing for a U.S.-Mexico partnership to combat China's growing economic influence.
To this end, President Obama announced a "High Level Economic Dialogue" between high-ranking officials from both governments to discuss "mutual economic growth, job creation, and competitiveness." Obama and Nieto were also expected to discuss the pending Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement, which would allow Mexico and the U.S. to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
Many have also speculated that Obama might use this trip to drum up support for his immigration reform proposals, but so far, that only seems an indirect product of the bilateral talks, with Obama hinting that an economically-strong Mexico will complement U.S. immigration reform. Though it's unclear how influential Nieto's backing would be on domestic nay-sayers, it would still be the proverbial cherry on the cake.