Foreign Policy Blogs

Shared Policy for Mexico’s New President and America’s Old President

President Obama’s election victory last month proposed many new policy changes for the next four years. One of the most important policy relationships may be the one between the United States and Mexico. This past Saturday, Enrique Pena Nieto was sworn in as Mexico’s new President. With policy challenges for Nieto tied greatly to Mexico’s relationship with the United States, it will be a difficult four years for President Obama and President Pena Nieto.

For President Obama, Democrats and Republicans, the issue of demography may be the missing key to pushing through comprehensive immigration reform. The immigration issue is one that is not only in the minds of Americans, but is an issue close to the hearts of many in Mexico. A large number of Mexicans have some ties to the United States with relatives living there permanently or working there to support their families back in Mexico. Often Mexico’s greatest export floats between oil and people, people who fund many households and communities in Mexico through remittances from their employment abroad, most often coming from the United States. Any conflict coming out of the immigration debate in the US will affect Mexicans greatly, even if US immigration is not one of the main policy initiatives of Pena Nieto’s new government. While Latino’s may decide many future elections in the US, their voting power and financial influence may also shape policy inside Mexico itself, out of the direct control of both respective governments.

Pena Nieto had made some statements on future policy development, but he was not known for going into any great detail on his policy initiatives during his campaign. Recently his detailed policy focus has been put out to the public, focusing on poverty reduction, energy, transparency and drug violence.

Mexico’s economy has been doing surprisingly well over the last few years, but Pena Nieto was able to use the lack of trickle down opportunities to gain a strong foothold in Mexico’s election. His policy seeks to have the benefits of Mexico’s economy go to communities that have not seen any direct benefits. It is unclear how wealth distribution could be conducted without causing some major rifts in Mexican society, but he may be able to keep this promise if Mexico’s economy stays healthy and the trickle down sinks into the rest of Mexican society with employment and investments for all Mexicans growing for everyone’s benefit. Often economic policies cannot be attributed to one governmental term, like in Brazil; economic successes spanned two or three different presidential terms, even if Lula was seen as the one who produced the eventual economic boom.

Transparency and narco violence will be a major challenge over the next few years for President Pena Nieto as well as President Obama. With the US wars in the Middle East coming to a close (for the moment), the focus on other parts of the world has become a priority for the Obama Administration. Mexico’s drug violence and government efforts to end control by the cartels is directly linked to demand for narcotics over the border into the US and cartels that run throughout North America. In reality, more violence has come about on the US-Mexico border than the last few years of US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. The next four years will determine the next twenty years of drug policy between the US and Mexico. Formerly, Nieto’s PRI party left the cartels alone and many officials would not challenge their control in the regions where the cartel’s operated. With the election of the PAN and former President Cardenas, the government went to war with the cartels, but also created a war against corruption in Mexico’s government and police as well. With no assured policy solution to drug violence in Mexico, it will be difficult for Pena Nieto to rally the country to fight a war so drugs do not enter the US, especially since it comes from a policy that was started by a different President and a different party. Even former PAN President Vicente Fox has made statements supporting the legalisation of narcotics in Mexico as a tool to depressurise the violence. In the end, the result of Mexico’s uncontrollable drug violence will be one that neither Pena Nieto nor Obama can predict, but should be ready for as any policy outcome may be possible over the next four to six years.

  • Kathryn J.

    America needs to focus on its relations with Mexico in the coming four years because they actually hit pretty close to home, unlike the affairs we are currently involved in in the Middle East. Immigration and the drug war should be the main talking points between the US and Mexico in the next four years in order to figure out policies that suit both nation’s interests. Obviously, Nieto will have a lot of work to do in halting the growth of drug cartels and stopping them from spilling over into the US. Obama will also need to be involved in these plans so that he can efficiently protect the nation he runs. The last thing the US needs is a heavy presence of narcs, like that in Mexico. The violence from he drug wars has gotten out of control, and both countries need to work to stop it. Also, immigration is a big deal because of the millions and millions of Mexicans currently living in the US, with millions and millions more trying to do so. Obama needs to create a clear policy towards illegal immigrants, hopefully working with Nieto to make that transition easier for both nations. Hopefully both Mexico and the US can manage healthy enough economies to be able to work through the problems and find a clear goal.

    • Gabby Gottfried

      I fully agree with Kathryn. Communication is vital to stop this costly and deadly war we seem to ignore. Americans don’t even think it’s still an issue since medical marijuana is on the road to legality in various states, but it still costs millions of lives. The DREAM Act can hopefully help the visa system, and more legal marijuana will contribute, but the weapon fueling it is our firearms. Our firearms equip the narco trade gangs, but gun control is very unlikely too..

  • AnnMarieC

    Now as we’ve come closer to coming to a halt in some of our involvement in the Middle East, the USA needs to start making times to shed light on the issues in Mexican-American affairs. The resolutions to our problem pertaining to the border and narcotics are ones that could help create a drastic change in North America. For these past, American has failed to see how influential ties with Mexico could be, we have neglected this country and have not considered it to be a top priority even though it is our neighbor. Overall, all of Mexico’s political and economical decisions will affect us greatly. It is for this reason that Presidet Pena Nieto and Obama needs to work diligently to preserve ties and focus on coming up with solutions that will benefit both parties. The United States has played such a role in foreign affairs, but the time has come for us to start focusing on our domestic affairs and the affair of our neighboring countries.


Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration