This week, President Obama will travel to Mexico to visit with President Enrique Peña Nieto, elected to office in December. During his two-day visit, the presidents will discuss a wide range of topics, from expanding our increasingly robust and diverse economic relationship to a host of bilateral, regional and global issues.
Cooperation with Mexico is critical to so many U.S. foreign and domestic goals – from security, counterterrorism and trade to social policies. But our relationship is about more than a set of policies. We share a 2000 mile national boundary, but we also share deep bonds of family and community, and not just along that border.
But some aspects of our cooperation raise questions. Writing in the Washington Post article last weekend, Dana Priest documented the challenges of fighting the criminal cartels that have ravaged Mexico in her article, “U.S. Role at a Crossroads in Mexico’s Intelligence War on Cartels.” While it is clearly in our mutual best interest to attack the cartels in a coordinated way, Mexico’s efforts have coincided with an alarming increase in reports of human rights violations.
That’s why I and my Republican colleague Ted Poe (R-TX) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry last week in advance of President Obama’s trip to ask that human rights assume a central place in the bilateral relationship between our countries. The 22 Members who joined our letter recognize that progress in trade and economic growth won’t be durable if not accompanied by genuine security for all of Mexico’s citizens.
The previous administration made some progress in an effort to extend protections to human rights defenders. But the Calderon Administration failed to carry through on reforms that would ensure that allegations of rights abuses brought against the Mexican military are heard in civilian courts, while seeing reports of torture by security forces increase by 400 percent.
In the short time President Pena Nieto has been in office, he has affirmed his willingness to defend human rights in Mexico. I think that it is critical that we show him that we share his commitment to strengthening judicial reform.
The stakes are high. In recent years Mexico and the United States have entered a new era of economic cooperation. Since our countries inaugurated the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, bilateral trade has exploded. U.S. foreign investment in Mexico grew more than eight percent in 2011, to over $91 billion. And investments flowing the other way grew far more, by 22 percent, to reach nearly $14 billion. Our increasingly integrated economies will lift more and more Mexicans out of poverty and provide jobs to more Americans.
But the challenge of citizen security and the uneven protection of human rights in Mexico threaten the promise of our economic future. One of the best ways for the United States to help Mexico increase citizen security would be to institute more sensible drug policies in our country. By ending the illegal marketplace for marijuana, the U.S. would divert an estimated $2 billion a year in illicit funding away from narco-gangs in Mexico and help reduce the corresponding flow of firearms from the U.S. that feeds violence in Mexico.
Sadly, these goals may elude us in the current political environment. But that is no reason not to work with our partners in Mexico to strengthen the rule of law, protect the rights of citizens, and end impunity on the part of security forces. By making these aims a central part of the U.S. agenda in Mexico, we are sharing a fundamental value of the American people, and grounding our relationship in a way that truly honors the deep bonds of culture, economy and family that unite us.