At Summit, Leaders Will Focus on Economy, Mexico's Drug Wars

An anti-globalization demonstrator shouts slogans during a march against the North American Leaders' Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico.
An anti-globalization demonstrator shouts slogans during a march against the North American Leaders' Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico. (By Eduardo Verdugo -- Associated Press)
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By Cheryl W. Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 10, 2009

GUADALAJARA, Mexico, Aug. 9 -- President Obama arrived Sunday in Mexico's second-largest city for a two-day summit to discuss that country's ongoing drug wars and whether its strategy to eliminate trafficking and the violence associated with it is working.

Obama and his delegation, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, energy and climate czar Carol M. Browner and national security adviser James L. Jones, met with Mexican President Felipe Calderón for 45 minutes. This is the sixth time this year that Obama has met with Calderón.

The leaders discussed the drug cartels and Obama's support for Calderón's efforts in fighting trafficking in Mexico, and how the United States can accelerate getting aid to Mexico to help in the war on drugs. Obama also emphasized the importance of human rights in the battle to rid the country of illegal drugs.

Obama and Calderón also focused on how the countries can work to ensure the most up-to-date information on the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. Calderón also raised the issue of trade and putting Mexican trucks back on American roads.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress canceled a pilot program that allowed some Mexican truckers to operate in the United States. The free movement of trucks north and south of the border is a component of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and banning Mexican trucks from U.S. highways violates NAFTA.

"The president made clear his commitment to work with Congress to address discuss legitimate safety concerns and to work to fulfill our international obligations," a senior Obama administration official said. "I think there has been a clear understanding that this . . . was a priority issue and one that everyone would like to see resolved as quickly as possible."

The North American Leaders' Summit is an annual gathering for the presidents of the United States and Mexico and the prime minister of Canada to work collaboratively on issues such as border security, immigration reform and economic recovery. It is Obama's second visit to Mexico since he became president and his second meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is scheduled to visit the White House next month. Obama and Harper met in Ottawa in February and agreed to work together to fight the global economic recession.

But it is the drug war plaguing Mexico that has the leaders' attention. Since taking office in December 2006, Calderón has struggled with ways to rid his country of cartels. He began an aggressive operation that included deploying 45,000 soldiers to fight the traffickers. While it has had some success, it has led to more than 12,000 drug-related deaths, including the execution-style killing in Monterrey on Sunday of lawyer Silvia Raquenel Villanueva, who represented several high-profile drug dealers. There are also hundreds of allegations of human-rights violations against the military and growing concerns in the United States about the effectiveness of Mexico's anti-drug strategy.

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