Sunday, September 23, 2012

Felipe Calderón, Mexican cabinet make last call on U.S.

President says he's leaving with "no regrets"

Guadalajara -
Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, his wife Margarita Zavala and his cabinet arrived in Washington early this evening for the president's final official visit to the United States.

Calderón's last full day in office will be Nov. 30. The next day Mexico's first PRI president in more than a decade, Enrique Peña Nieto, will be sworn in. Presidents here serve a 72 month term, known as a sexenio, and are not eligible for reelection. Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) has held Mexico's highest office since 2000, when Vicente Fox was elected president.

Vicente Fox enjoyed a solid relationship with former U.S. president George W. Bush, as did Felipe Calderón during Bush's last 24 months in office. Together the latter two forged a joint Mexico-U.S. security agreement to confront international drug cartels. That pact is alive and well, and will unquestionably survive the change in one - perhaps two - administrations (Governments come and go, but Mérida Initiative will continue). While the U.S. Congress is not always pleased with the course of Mexico's drug war, it's invested over $1 billion in the strategy just since 2008, and few if any realistic alternatives are on the table (U.S. set to approve more Mérida Initiative funds).

Felipe Calderón and president Barack Obama became fast friends when the latter took office in early 2009, and they remain so. Not that there haven't been some serious jolts in the road along the way. In 2011 the U.S. had to replace its ambassador to Mexico after he offered a disparaging assessment of the country's alleged lack of resolve (and coordination) in the drug war. The embarrassing disclosures were published by whistle blower Wikileaks, but no one in the U.S. denied the legitimacy of purloined State Dept. diplomatic cables upon which they were based. Obama offered a bit of a mea culpa to his partner south of the border when he admitted to an Argentine magazine last December that U.S. drug demand is responsible for the damage done to Mexico, a belief which is shared and was echoed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in January.

Calderón has bee a constant critic of U.S. gun laws, which supply the cartels with their armaments ("Dear friends in the United States - please, no more assault weapons to Mexico"). He has urged the reinstatement of the U.S. Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004 (U.S. guns play key role in Mexico's raging drug war, says president Felipe Calderón). Mexico was infuriated last year when news broke of U.S. government gun-running programs like Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver, and appeared stunned when reports surfaced that American federal agents launder hundreds of millions of dollars annually for the cartels, flying the cash out of this country on U.S. aircraft. Calderón joined a rising chorus in both nations against such covert law enforcement activities, but he's well aware that they're inevitable in the drug war (Fallout continues after Mexican attack on undercover CIA agents).

It's widely expected that president Calderón will take a university post after he leaves office at the end of this year - probably in the United States (Felipe Calderón polishes up CV, looks for work in U.S.). He recognizes that his administration will be remembered primarily for his offensive against organized crime (Struggle against cartels will be legacy, Calderón says), part of the National Security Strategy.

As for Mexico's next chief executive, he'll largely stay Calderón's course, a fact which which should soothe concerns in Washington - regardless of who's sitting in the White House in 2013 (Peña Nieto transition team confirms: Mexican army will remain on the streets).

Note: As a salute to the outgoing president, Mexican Air Force fighter jets escorted the presidential aircraft part way on its journey north. Calderón said the unexpected event filled him with pride.

"Drug users are killing thousands of young people in the developing nations," Calderón tells U.N.
"Don't throw us back," Calderón tells Peña Nieto, hinting that U.S. may have to legalize drugs
Le Monde lashes out at Mexico's "spiral of barbarism" - and takes a swipe at U.S.
Opinion: Calderón drug war strategy has been the right one

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