MEXICO CITY – President Obama sought Thursday to tamp down a potential rift with Mexico over a dramatic shift in the cross-border fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, acceding that Mexicans had the right to determine how best to tackle the violence that has plagued their country.
Since taking office in December, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has moved to end the widespread access that U.S. security agencies have had in Mexico to tackle the violence that affects both sides of the border. It’s a departure from the strategy employed by his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, which was praised by the U.S. but reviled by many Mexicans.
Obama said the shifting security relationship would not hurt cooperation between the neighboring nations.
I agreed to continue our close cooperation on security, even as the nature of that cooperation will evolve, Obama said during a joint news conference at Mexico’s grand National Palace. It is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their security structures and how it engages with the other nations – including the United States.
Pena Nieto as well downplayed the notion that the new, more centralized arrangement would damage its security partnership with the United States. He said Obama agreed during their private meeting earlier in the day to cooperate on the basis of mutual respect to promote an efficient and effective strategy.
Obama arrived in Mexico on Thursday afternoon for a three-day trip that will also include a stop in Costa Rica. Domestic issues followed the president south of the border, including the delicate debate on Capitol Hill on an immigration overhaul.
More than half of the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally are Mexican, according to the Pew Research Center. The draft bill being debated on Capitol Hill makes securing the border with Mexico a pre-condition for a pathway to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally.
Pena Nieto carefully avoided injecting himself in the issue. While he commended the U.S. for tackling the challenge, he said the congressional debate is a domestic affair.