Obama to Discuss Drug War and Trade on Mexico Visit

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: President Obama is no doubt keeping a close eye on the ongoing Boston bombings investigation, but he's also preparing for his visit to Mexico which starts tomorrow. The visit is happening just as Mexico is changing the way it cooperates with the US in the fight against drug traffickers. The World�s William Troop has been keeping an eye on this story. William, how is Mexico changing its drug war strategy and its cooperation with the US?

William Troop: Well, earlier this week, Mexico's foreign ministry came out and said that it's basically no longer going to allow US law-enforcement officials to have direct access to their counterparts in Mexican agencies. And so from now on any such cooperation will have to first go through Mexico's Interior Ministry which will act as a coordinator on the Mexican side. And they say that this is because under President CalderÃ? ³n cooperation with the US became so widespread and decentralized that it led to Mexican agencies cooperating with the US on one hand and not knowing what another agency was doing with the US on the other and literally the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, and they said this led to problems on the Mexican side.

Werman: Now, President CalderÃ? ³n is no longer there in Mexico. It's Enrique PeÃ? ±a Nieto who is president. I mean this move could be hugely significant and already the shift has reportedly upset US officials who had grown pretty used to that widespread cooperation in recent years. How will this impact the drug war then?

Troop: I put that question to Shannon O'Neil who follows Mexico for the Council on Foreign Relations and she agreed that this coordination issue was a problem on the Mexican side, but she says there are going to be some real drawbacks.

Shannon O'Neil: One of the biggest drawbacks would be particularly with sensitive information on ongoing active cases or the like. You could imagine that agents would be a little bit more reluctant to share it with a bureaucracy in Mexico City than say counterparts they've been working with side-by-side, so you might see less intelligence sharing, particularly sensitive information.

Troop: And I would also add to that that US officials over time will literally know their counterparts less personally and that could lead to some problems because historically in Mexico there have been issues about drug cartels infiltrating or corrupting Mexican institutions.

Werman: Right. Now, aside from becoming less reliant on the US for the drug war, what about Mexico's actual drug war strategy? How are they going to change that?

Troop: Well, everybody I've talked to tells me that this is still vague, still being developed, but it looks like in the future, under President PeÃ? ±a Nieto, Mexico will be steering away from this notion of going after the heads of the cartels which are seen to generate more violence. So instead Mexico will be looking to contain the cartels more with a variety of means. Here's how George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary in Virginia explained it to me.

George Grayson: Calderon employed the broadsword in trying to decapitate cartels. That broadsword now I think is going to be converted into a scalpel.

Troop: Grayson says that means fewer big-headline arrests or killings and more use of surveillance and technology to make it harder for the cartels to do their business.

Werman: I mean, William, this is a war that is happening just to our southern border. It's resulted in thousands of deaths. It's been going on for years. Why is Mexico making these changes now?

Troop: Well, for one thing it has to be said that Mexico is a nation who is exhausted from six years of drug war under President CalderÃ? ³n and the horrible death toll that came with it. Mexico's new President, Enrique PeÃ? ±a Nieto, from the beginning has said that he doesn't want the drug war to be his only focus. He wants to put a spotlight on other parts of Mexico, more positive parts of Mexico, and a big one there is the economy and its trade with the United States which is huge. And one thing that struck me about when President Obama was asked about this yesterday at his news conference, he seemed to be kinda in tune with that and here's what he had to say about his upcoming visit.

Barack Obama: A lot of the focus is going to be on economics. We've spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border.

Troop: Now, President Obama said that doesn't mean they're not going to talk about security and the drug war, but he said he's not going to judge yet how the changes in Mexico are going to affect the future bilateral efforts between Washington and Mexico City until he goes down there tomorrow and he talks to President PeÃ? ±a Nieto himself.

Werman: All right. We'll see how that goes. The World�s William Troop. Thanks a lot.

Troop: You're welcome.