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Nice words, but....

May 20, 2010 |  3:45 pm

Mexicans listening to the speeches in Washington by President Obama and Mexican President  Felipe Calderon on Wednesday and Thursday could be forgiven for thinking the prose bore a familiar ring. Calderon has frequently promised to "work hard" for Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.; Obama has previously assumed "shared responsibility"    for the fight against drug trafficking. Both leaders have roundly condemned the Arizona immigration law.

But will the words translate into concrete action?

"Sorry Mr. Calderon," was the headline (written, pointedly, in English) on El Universal's lead editorial Thursday, which noted that Obama quickly shot down Calderon's plea for immigration reform. Obama said he didn't have the votes in Congress. The editorial (in Spanish, except for the headline) was optimistic that new elements were being introduced into the drug war, such as an emphasis on health, consumption and human rights, but asked, "How can we apply this ability to change [ideas] to other themes that really interest Mexico, like immigration?"

The paper says an intense and deft lobbying campaign by the Mexican government in the U.S. Congress would be necessary. But Raul Benitez,* writing elsewhere in the same paper, warned that "Obama is one thing, members of Congress something else altogether" (link is in Spanish). For all their rote standing ovations Thursday during Calderon's speech, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, harbor profound mistrust of the Mexican government, says Benitez, an expert on U.S.-Mexican relations at Mexico City's National Autonomous University.

An editorial cartoon (registration required) in Mexico's big Reforma newspaper shows three successive U.S. presidents (Obama, Bush and Clinton) each with one of three successive Mexican presidents (Calderon, Vicente Fox, Ernesto Zedillo). In each case, the U.S. president standing next to the Mexican president du jour says in the exact same words: "Today we initiate a new relationship...."

A group of Mexican human rights organizations, along with their U.S. partners, issued a statement calling for judicial reforms, money-laundering laws, "serious" efforts to stem the flow of weapons into Mexico and other concrete steps.

"We ... are hopeful that our respective presidents will move beyond the empty platitudes that typically characterize such meetings and instead capitalize on this historic visit to make concrete and meaningful commitments to transform the rhetoric of shared responsibility into reality," they said.

Senate President Carlos Navarrete of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party praised right-wing Calderon's "direct and energetic" (albeit divisive) speech before Congress on Thursday.

"Both his own people and outsiders were surprised by the clarity with which he outlined bilateral themes," Navarrete said. "But it is obvious that issues like weapons and immigration can only be dealt with in November, if the Democrats do well then and gain seats [in Congress]. We have to be aware of that and not be asking for something that is impossible."
-- Tracy Wilkinson, in Mexico City
Photo: Mexican President Felipe Calderon soaks up applause Thursday in the U.S. Congress. Credit: El Universal.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Raul Benitez as Raul Benoite.