Mr. Obama plans to meet with President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City to discuss the drug war, as well as issues such as energy and the economy, before heading to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago on Friday.
Denis McDonough, the director of strategic communications at the White House’s National Security Council, said the president’s visit underscored U.S. support for its southern neighbor at the highest levels.
“It’s designed to send a very clear signal to our friends in Mexico City that we have a series of shared challenges as it relates to the economy, as it relates to security, insecurity, the threat of violence, and the impact of drug trafficking on both our countries,” McDonough said, according to Reuters.
On the eve of the president’s visit, the Obama administration announced sanctions on three Mexican organizations designated as cartels at the center of the country’s violent drugs war. The White House said the groups would be censured under a law that allows the Treasury Department to block or seize their assets.
Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced several interagency efforts to step up law enforcement and border security in the southwestern United States, such as increasing the number of agents, installing more surveillance equipment and collaborating with Mexican authorities on identifying and capturing drug gangs.
And Wednesday, she named Alan Bersin, a former Justice Department official, as “border czar.”
“His … sole mission is to make sure that all of the things happening with Mexico right now are happening in real time and producing the kinds of results that we anticipate,” she said, Reuters reported.
Mexico’s drug violence has killed more than 9,000 people since Calderon took office in December 2006, according to the Associated Press.
“A lot of change has come to Mexico,” Sam Quinones, a Los Angeles Times reporter and author of the book, “True Tales from Another Mexico,” told the NewsHour Wednesday. “So the new government has a totally different attitude now, and they’re going after these cartel guys. They’re not just going after loads of dope; they’re going after guns, money and the capos themselves.”
In addition to Calderon, President Obama plans to meet with Mexican legislators and discuss trade policies.
Mexico, a partner with Canada and the United States in the 1994 NAFTA trade agreement, sends about 80 percent of its exports to the United States.
Mexico placed retaliatory tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. goods in March after President Obama signed an omnibus spending bill that canceled a program allowing Mexican long-haul truckers to operate in the United States.