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Friday, February 17, 2012

Mexico: Issues for Congress

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States and Mexico have a close and complex bilateral relationship. As neighbors and partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States and Mexico have extensive economic linkages, with bilateral trade valued at almost $400 billion in 2010. In recent years, security issues have dominated the bilateral relationship, and the United States is providing close to $1.7 billion worth of training and equipment to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative to support efforts against drug trafficking and organized crime. Roughly $896 million of that assistance had been delivered as of December 31, 2011. Immigration and border security have also returned to the forefront of the bilateral agenda since Arizona became the first state to enact a strict law against illegal immigration in April 2010.

Entering his sixth year in office, President Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) had an approval rating of about 51% (December 2011), lower than at any point in his term. The Calderón Administration has arrested record numbers of drug kingpins, but the brazen violence committed by warring criminal groups, partially in response to the government’s aggressive anticrime efforts, has led to increasing criticism of its security strategy. According to Mexican government data, organized crime-related violence claimed more than 47,500 lives in Mexico between January 2007 and September 2011. President Calderón is still working to boost jobs, expand access to health insurance, and reform the country’s security apparatus. However, with the end of his administration approaching, he may now be unable to shepherd much-needed structural reforms through the Mexican Congress.

Security and the economy are likely to be major issues in the July 1, 2012 presidential, legislative, and state elections. Polls released in January 2012 showed Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), former governor of the state of Mexico, leading Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist PRD candidate who narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election, and any of the three candidates then vying for the PAN nomination. The PRI’s prospects for recapturing the presidency have strengthened since its candidates won four of the six gubernatorial elections contested in 2011. However, analysts predict that the presidential race will tighten now that the PAN has chosen Josefina Vázquez Mota, a popular former Education Secretary and congresswoman, as its candidate. The parties will not officially register their candidates until mid-March, with the campaign beginning on March 30.

Congress has maintained an active interest in Mexico with counternarcotics, border security, and trade issues dominating the agenda. Congressional funding and oversight of the Mérida Initiative is likely to continue. Congress noted its support for the Obama Administration’s FY2012 budget request for Mexico, which included $282 million in Mérida assistance, in the report (H.Rept. 112- 331) accompanying P.L. 112-74. Congress may also monitor how organized crime and government efforts to suppress it are affecting human rights and democracy in Mexico, particularly as the Mexican elections approach. Drug trafficking-related violence in northern Mexico is likely to keep border security on the agenda of congressional oversight committees. While comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to advance this year, Congress may consider discrete immigration measures to facilitate the admission of nurses and other highskilled workers. Efforts to boost bilateral trade and increase economic integration, as well as to resolve periodic trade disputes under the NAFTA, are also likely to be of interest to Congress.

Date of Report: February 8, 2012
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

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