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Obama strikes note of unity at Mexico summit

Despite human rights concerns, President Obama affirmed support of President Felipe Calderón's aggressive war on drug trafficking during Monday's North America Summit in Guadalajara.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 10, 2009

President Barack Obama (r.) Mexico's President Felipe Calderon (c.) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper pose for a photo at the Cabanas Cultural Center in Guadalajara, Mexico, Monday.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP

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Mexico City

At the North American Leaders Summit in Mexico today, the three heads of state reiterated their commitment to the pressing issues of the day, including security, economic recovery, climate change, and the mitigation of swine flu.

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But some of the most contentious issues remain unresolved, including the delay of antidrug funding to Mexico because of US concerns over human rights abuses as well as trade and immigration disagreements that have emerged between all three governments.

"I think their message is significant in articulating a broader vision of North America," says Robert Pastor, a Latin America expert at American University and codirector of the Center for North American Studies, particularly in agreeing that "they need to apply themselves together if they are going to succeed," he says. "But there were not many specific decisions made."

Human rights concerns

President Obama, on his second official visit to Mexico, supported Mexican President Felipe Calderón's determination and courage in fighting drug traffickers.

Mr. Calderón has employed 45,000 troops across the country and seen unprecedented violence as a consequence.

But some funding from the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative, the US antidrug aid package, has been delayed as some in the US raise concerns that alleged human rights violations by the military are not being properly addressed.

Mr. Obama, who called drug traffickers the biggest violators of human rights and said he has confidence that Calderón's administration is respecting human rights in its fight, did not specify at the two-day summit whether Mexico will be certified by the US State Department as meeting human rights conditions, something that is required for some of the funding to be released.

Calderón contended that his administration has an "absolute and categorical" commitment to human rights in its fight against drug cartels.

No agreement on trucking dispute

But Mexico and the US were apparently unable to come to a solution on a trucking issue that has simmered since the spring, when the US canceled a pilot program that allowed some Mexican trucks to enter the US. The US cited safety concerns. Mexico, in return, put tariffs on certain US goods.

And Canada, the largest trading partner of the US, did not see the American president back down from his "Buy American" plan in his stimulus package, which has angered the Canadian government.

That not much was agreed to on these fronts is not surprising, given the economic downturn that each country faces.

"Canada and Mexico are waiting for the US to be more successful, for the tide to go up so their boats will rise," says Dan Lund, a pollster and president of The Mund Group in Mexico City. "They don't see NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] as an instrument to help them out in this period." But, he adds, "there are hints of cooperation that could bear fruit," he says, particularly on security and health issues.

Unity on swine flu measures

The most united front came on the issue of swine flu, as the three pledged preventive measures to slow its spread as the flu season approaches. They also promised to find a joint position on climate change ahead of a UN summit in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

And they stood together in reaffirming a stance that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya be restored to the presidency after he was exiled by the military on June 28.

"President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president and, for the sake of the Honduran people, democratic and constitutional order must be restored," Obama said. "Our three nations stand united on this issue."

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