July 24, 2016
Against a backdrop of political tumult in their countries, U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto met July 22 in Washington, D.C., where the two leaders reaffirmed existing bilateral relationships and unveiled new joint initiatives.
In Washington the day after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s acceptance speech in Cleveland and on the eve of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, Pena Nieto assumed a diplomatic posture, stressing the myriad ties between Mexico and the U.S.
“I want to express my greatest respect to Mrs. Hillary Clinton and Mr. Donald Trump,” Pena Nieto said. “I propose a frank and open dialogue about the relationship between our countries with whoever gets elected.”
The Mexican president insisted he would not comment or get involved in the U.S. electoral process since it is “a matter that corresponds exclusively to the (U.S.) people.” While staying on or accelerating the course in the so-called drug war (with a stronger focus on heroin), global free trade, cross-border commercial and tourism expansion, and health programs and student exchanges, the Obama-Pena Nieto encounter was also the occasion to mention an upcoming, long-term agreement on Colorado River water; call for greater cooperation on the Rio Grande; and raise the importance of resolving Gulf of Mexico boundaries, which was the subject of a July 4-7 meeting in Mexico involving the U.S., Cuba and Mexico.
Framed by the White House as a security issue, a new effort to track people crossing the U.S-Mexico border was revealed:
“The United States and Mexico are developing a pilot program to share border crossing information such that a traveler’s entry into one country will be recorded as an exit from the other,” the White House said in a statement.
“This program will include the future deployment of a shared, radio-frequency identification (RFID)-enabled biographic entry/exit system along the common land border to help improve both countries’ immigration records and enhance our shared security. The United States will also support Mexico’s efforts to collect entry data on travelers into Mexico via an RFID-enabled system.”
A White House statement devoted considerable attention to outlining mutual environmental/public health priorities of combating invasive species and viruses like Zika; expanding new “Sister Park” partnerships such as the one with the Channel Islands off southern California; combating climate change through market-driven solutions, more efficient energy consumption and adherence to the voluntary greenhouse gas emissions goals of the Paris Agreement; and vigorous cooperation in saving sea turtles and the vaquita, a small porpoise found exclusively in the Gulf of California that is on the verge of extinction. Recent reports estimate that only 60 of the animals are left.
Significantly, the meeting gave a nod to nuclear energy as a source of fuel in a North American “clean energy” future. According to the White House:
“The United States and Mexico commit to launch formal negotiations on a bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation (“123” Agreement) with the intent of concluding the agreement this year. A “123” Agreement would strengthen our existing legal framework and provide an enhanced basis for the transfer of technology, fuel, and other major nuclear components between the two countries, as well as enhance potential emissions reduction in the power sector. It would also enhance national capacities in the supply chain and nuclear fuel services, and facilitate sharing of experiences and best practices in this sector.”
In terms of immigration, Mexico’s role as a buffer between Central America and the U.S. was noted by the Mexican delegation. “Mexico has a robust, healthy economy,” Obama was quoted by the Mexican presidential office. “This Mexico could help us create stability and security in Central America, and it does more to resolve any problem or migratory crisis than a wall.”
In a press conference with Pena Nieto, Obama thanked Mexico for curbing undocumented immigration from Central America, adding that without the Mexican government’s cooperation “we would have a much more significant problem.”
Separately, the White House said the U.S. will begin a new training program for Mexico’s National Migration Institute in early 2007 aimed at enhancing the capabilities of Mexican immigration authorities to identify and interview “vulnerable populations, consistent with international standards,” as well as impart “repatriation best practices and provision of migrant services.”
The Washington encounter renewed commitment to the binational Merida Initiative, especially efforts at reforming the Mexican trial system, professionalizing Mexican police and bringing Mexican law enforcement in line with international standards, according to the White House.
Yet the latest reaffirmation of Merida comes at a moment when human rights crises precisely involving police are engulfing both Mexico and the U.S. Mexican police are blamed by some witnesses for firing on and killing at least 9 people during a teacher strike June 19 in Nochxitlan, Oaxaca. More violence flared last week when armed men identified with the Mexican Green Party, allied with Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and allegedly protected by local police, attacked a protest encampment of teachers and supporters near San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, injuring several persons.
Some of the attackers were purportedly from the town of San Juan Chamula, a historic PRI stronghold, where Green Party mayor Domingo Lopez Gonzalez and four other persons were murdered during another- if not necessarily connected- bout of violence on Saturday, July 23. Besides the dead, 15 other individuals were wounded. The Chiapas state attorney general’s office later said six persons were detained for the crimes.
In the aftermath of the slaughter, Mexican journalist Hermann Bellinghausen reported that local police pointed guns at him and demanded he erase photos of the scene in San Juan Chamula.
Also on July 23, Ambrosio Soto, the mayor of Pungarabato, Guerrero, was murdered along with his driver. Last week, Soto spoke about insecurity at a forum organized by the United Nations in the U.S.
In the U.S. meanwhile, tensions searing the political landscape over the police killings of African-American men in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and many other places as well as the killings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge were further punctuated last week with the posting of videos on the Internet that showed an Austin policeman violently subduing last year Breaion King, an unarmed African-American teacher, and a Florida cop shooting last week Charles Kinsey, an unarmed African-American behavior therapist who was trying to protect an autistic patient and who had his hands up.
Prior to the Obama-Pena Nieto meeting, Mexican and international human rights advocacy organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of State that contrasted sharply with the White House’s view of Merida.
Comparing concrete actions in Mexico with four human rights benchmarks established by the U.S. Congress for judging whether Mexico was complying with human rights and thus eligible for portions of Merida funding, (15 percent of U.S. funding was withheld on human rights grounds last year), the advocacy groups concluded that “our organizations’ research and case documentation make clear that the Mexican government has failed to meet the human rights priorities outlined by Congress for fiscal year 2015.”
The letter discussed the mountain of investigative obstructions, irregularities and impunity in the forced disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa college students in 2014 at the hands of Mexican police (and allegedly soldiers) and the 22 people killed the same year by Mexican soldiers in Tlatlaya, Mexico state, allegedly as a result of a shoot-out with the military, as well as broader patterns of torture, forced disappearance, the breakdown of military and civilian justice systems, and the failure to implement mandatory sentences involving soldiers from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The letter cited a 2016 Amnesty International (AI) report that concluded “sexual torture and gender-based violence have become normalized in investigation processes.” Based on interviews with 100 women federal prisoners in Mexico, AI reported that 97 percent of the detainees said they suffered physical violence at the hands of captors, while 33 alleged they were raped by police or members of the military.
The statement was signed by AI, Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain, Citizens in Support of Human Rights, Fundar, Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America.
Wedged between the Republican and Democratic conventions in the U.S, the Obama-Pena Nieto meeting only received spotty coverage north of the border.
Strongly endorsing free trade, Obama and Pena Nieto reiterated support for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Citing more than a 500 percent increase in Mexico-U.S. commerce during the last 20 years, the Mexican president added that conditions even existed for updating NAFTA, the expansion of which was broached by Pena Nieto, Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada last month.
Additional sources: Eluniversal.com.mx, July 23, 2016. Article by Oscar Gutierrez. Proceso/Apro, July 23, 2016. Articles by Isain Mandujano. El Sur, July 23 and 24, 2016. Articles by Erika Hernandez (Agencia Reforma) and Israel Flores. Aristeguinoticias.com/Reuters, July 22, 2016.
La Jornada, July 21, 23 and 24, 2016. Articles by Elio Henriquez, Hermann Bellinghausen, Alma Munoz, Rosa Elvira Vargas, editorial staff, AFP and Notimex. Austin-Statesman/KVUE, July 21, 2016. Article by Tony Plohetski. CNN.com, July 23, 2016. Article by Catherine Shoichet. CBC.ca., June 29, 2016.
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