As Obama arrives in Mexico, residents willing to give him a chance

But they're still cautious as they hold out hope that this American president might be different.

For most Mexicans, their instinct is to dismiss with suspicion any leader of their powerful neighbor to the north who comes promising change and a new relationship. We've heard it before, they will tell you.

But most Mexico City residents seem prepared to give President Obama, whom they say they like as a person, a chance to show that his talk of more cooperation is more than just words.

"I like that he seems completely different from President Bush," says Maria José Araeza, a student at the private Banking and Business School on the monument-rich Reforma Avenue in the capital city. "Bush had half-crazy ideas, starting with the war, but Obama seems more rational."

"But," she adds with trademark Mexican caution, "we'll see in the long run."

Mr. Obama may have been received like a rock star in Europe, but in Mexico, it's the new president's down-to-earth, serious, even cerebral qualities that are most attractive. He arrived in Mexico City on Thursday.

"What impresses me is what a smart man he is," says Francisco Javier Ponce, a book editor with a Mexico City publishing house. It's the perceived intelligence, he adds, that is part of why Mexicans are holding out hope that this American president might be different – that he might actually deliver on working with Mexico to help it address its deep domestic challenges, starting with the raging battle with powerful drug-trafficking mafias.

"We have different expectations of Obama than we did of Bush," Mr. Ponce says, "partly because Bush seemed solely interested in the Middle East, but also because he is already talking about problems we know about like he understands them."

As an example, Ponce points to the illegal flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico, something he says Obama has shown he understands by assigning cabinet members to address the issue.

Of course, not all Mexicans have such a developed view of the American president visiting them. Young men are more fascinated by the armored limousine Obama travels with, or the estimated 4,500 Mexican and US security agents deployed to keep him safe.

"They call his ride La Bestia [The Beast], and it's actually made of titanium, wow!" marvels Eugénio Lozano, who sells fruit juice from giant glass jars on a sun-slashed street corner. "But still!" he whistles when told the limousine is actually made of steel, aluminum, and titanium.

Another Mexican man says he's sure Obama will not spend the night at the Presidente InterContinental hotel, as reported, but will send a "decoy" there while he retires to an undisclosed location where no harm would find him.

That aura is pierced by more cynical reports in the press, where the gap between Obama's words and actions are already chronicled. Obama "will commit himself to fluid commercial relations between strategic partners, but he won't lift a finger against the powerful unions that are impeding Mexican trucks from delivering goods across the border," writes journalist Carlos Loret de Mola in the Universal newspaper.

Not to mention, he adds, that Obama cut a visit that was supposed to last two days to one.

Such sentiments reflect the reality that Mexico remains much more dependent on the US than the other way around, says Erica Doniz Jimenez, a student along with Ms. Araeza. "The US is still 25 percent of the world economy, so of course what happens there affects us all, not to mention that it sits right next door."

She wants Obama to address immigration and the poor conditions encountered by Mexicans going north. Sitting across a cafe table, Araeza agrees – but counsels her friend not to expect too much.

"In the end, countries act out of their own interests, and it so happens that the two countries' interests aren't always the same," Araeza says. "Obama may sound different, but over time, he'll reflect that reality more and more."

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