Watching the Election, South of the Border

Letter From Mexico City

A newspaper clipping from Obama's first trip to Mexico. (Ron Mader / flickr)

Every 12 years, the U.S. and Mexican political calendars sync up and both countries hold their presidential elections. The last time this happened, in 2000, Mexicans voted in Vicente Fox, ushering out of power the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which until then had been one of the longest-ruling political parties in the world. Meanwhile, the United States said good-bye to President Bill Clinton and hello to the George W. Bush administration.

Twelve years later, power in Mexico has once again changed hands with the presidential victory of Enrique Peña Nieto, who is head of the rebuilt PRI. And this week, the United States has a choice between granting Barack Obama another four years in the White House and pushing him out in favor of the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. When the electoral scuffles are over, Mexico and the United States will have an opportunity to reboot their bilateral agendas and improve relations as they work on perennial challenges such as migration and drug trafficking.

There is no question that cooperation between the two countries has deepened in the past 12 years, especially under Obama and the outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who took office in 2006. In particular, both countries have recognized that the war on drugs should be a shared endeavor. This common understanding -- bolstered by the United States' financial commitment to defeating the drug cartels through the Mérida Initiative, a $1.4 billion multi-year assistance program to Mexico and several Central American countries -- marks a major turning point in the relationship. Continuing this cooperation is seen as a must in Mexico; many Mexicans contrast the United States' active involvement and financial commitment in the Middle East, which is thousands of miles away, to its meager activity in Mexico, its next-door neighbor.

Although trade has deepened since NAFTA came into effect in 1994, the bilateral trade relationship has been increasingly left to the private sector or, worse, to inertia.

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