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U.S.-Mexico Relations Take Center Stage as Presidents Obama, Calderon Meet

April 16, 2009 at 6:10 PM EDT
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Margaret Warner reports on President Obama's meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and their discussions of cooperation on curbing drug violence.
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MARGARET WARNER: President Obama’s visit comes against the backdrop of an increasingly deadly war against Mexico’s drug cartels.

President Calderon has committed his army and national police to the fight. More than 6,000 Mexicans died last year in battles between the authorities and the cartels and among warring drug gangs themselves.

Today the two presidents pledged to cooperate in the fight.

FELIPE CALDERON, President of Mexico (through translator): Today, Mexico and the United States, we are, we can, and we must be neighbors, friends, partners and allies. We are connected through our past, through our historic and demographic ties. Our present brings us together because we share challenges and opportunities.

MARGARET WARNER: Before leaving for Mexico, Mr. Obama launched a new effort to help from the U.S. side. He said the U.S. would go after the Mexican drug lords’ financial assets by designating the three major cartels as “kingpins.”

He described the plan to CNN en Espanol last night.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: The kingpin law allows us to go after the finances, the financial underpinnings of the cartels in a much more aggressive and much more effective way.

MARGARET WARNER: Today’s summit follows visits to Mexico by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Mexicans were pleasantly surprised when Secretary Clinton, during her visit last month, said the U.S. bears some responsibility for Mexico’s thriving drug-trafficking business and the firepower of the cartels.

HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State: Traffickers use guns purchased in the United States to fight each other and to challenge the Mexican military and police. Their enterprise is financed in part by our country’s demand for drugs, which sends up to $25 billion a year in illicit drug profits back into the hands of the drug kingpins.

MARGARET WARNER: Also yesterday, the Obama administration appointed a new border czar to oversee security efforts along the 2,000-mile border.

The U.S. is also sending more agents to police the border and instituting checks of southbound vehicles for cash and guns.

Today’s meeting also comes as the U.S.-led economic recession increasingly affects Mexico. Rising U.S. unemployment reduces money sent by Mexican immigrants back home, and U.S. consumer demand is dropping for exports from its southern neighbor.