On Jan. 6, President Barack Obama welcomed Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to the White House in what was Peña Nieto’s first official visit to the U.S. since being elected.
In the official communique released to the press, both officials stated that they discussed subjects including removing bottlenecks to trade at the border, new infrastructure in the border region, security, commitment to immigration reform, efforts to increase economic development between the two countries, and the recent move by the U.S. to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.
What do these two western leaders really talk about behind closed doors? Maybe something like this:
Obama: “Gee, Enrique, what a bummer about the scandal involving your wife’s multimillion-dollar house that was built by a popular government contractor, not to mention the mess with the 43 missing students in Iguala.”
Peña Nieto: “I appreciate that, Barack. Too bad about the ACA scandal and the wave of Republicans that now occupy both chambers of the U.S. Congress.”
Or could the conversation be a little darker, more on the squabbling side?
Obama: “Enrique, you have got to control your people coming over the border – this is empowering the right-wing Republicans who are undermining what I am trying to do in terms of immigration reform. And by the way, how about a little law and order in terms of controlling corruption and the drug gangs?”
Peña Nieto: “It’s your people who are demanding all of the drugs that are fueling the violence and corruption in my country. And in terms of law and order, do you mean in the manner that has caused problems with the police in Ferguson and New York City?”
I can see them sharing a drink, commiserating over the situations their presidencies are in, especially after so much hope was vested in each man. Both inherited major issues that were passed on to them – Obama with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Peña Nieto with the drug wars in Mexico that have killed more than 50,000 people. Both spearheaded historical changes in their respective countries – Obama with the passage of the Affordable Care Act and Peña Nieto with the privatization of Mexico’s energy industry, fiscal reform and revamping the educational system. The changes in both countries were thought nearly impossible a few years ago.
Despite the accomplishments they tout as being the pillars of their administrations, both came to the meeting with approval ratings in the dumps. Both rapidly saw the promise of their administrations turn to suspicion and backlash that has resulted in a defensive political approach.
It always gives me a good feeling when the leaders of the U.S. and Mexico meet. They should do this more often to discuss common interests and resolving nagging conflicts that always seem to work against our quest for being good neighbors. As North Americans with an intertwined history, the U.S. and Mexico are in the same boat when it comes to common issues that emanate from sharing a nearly 2,000-mile-long border, including security, the legal and illegal flow of people, drug interdiction and the environment. In a more global aspect, both countries are part of the North American Free Trade Bloc, which competes against other parts of the world such as Asia and Europe. The health of either country will impact the other.
However, we continue to live in an era in which the leadership of both countries, along with a substantial portion of their citizenry, still view the other country with suspicion, verging on a net-sum attitude – whatever is good for the U.S. is not necessarily good for Mexico and vice versa. As different parts of the world move toward the development of regional trade blocs in order to pool resources to compete in the global market, the U.S. and Mexico have to get past ingrained suspicions and realize that we share a common destiny. Failure to cooperate or to adequately discuss and resolve problems between our nations will impede the welfare of Americans and Mexicans in the future.
So even if the behind-the-scenes conversation verged more on the squabbling side, it is still a good thing that the leaders of the two nations met face-to-face to air their grievances, discuss problem resolution, and to strengthen the communication process for the betterment of our nations. This is what good neighbors do.
Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.