MERIDA, Mexico—Acknowledging that their countries' important relationship needs a jump-start, President Bush and his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, pledged more cooperation on immigration and fighting drug traffickers at the start of daylong meetings Tuesday.
The private meeting at a plantation on the Yucatan peninsula marked Bush's first meeting with Calderon since the Mexican leader was inaugurated in December.
The two weren't scheduled to meet with reporters until Wednesday morning, after which Bush is to return to Washington, ending a weeklong Latin America tour that also took him to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and Guatemala.
Unlike at previous stops, anti-American demonstrations were muted Tuesday, with some protests in Mexico City, 850 miles away, and a handful of demonstrators near the Uxmal Mayan archaeological site, which Bush was to visit.
Security was tight in this seaside city, and police blocked off streets near the hotels where Bush and Calderon were staying. School was canceled for the day.
Calderon called on the United States to do more to combat drug trafficking.
"My government has done what corresponds to it: retake the streets and public plazas from the claws of delinquency and drugs . . . but to have success in this fight we need collaboration and the active participation of our neighbor," he said. If the United States doesn't do more to curb demand for narcotics, "it will be very difficult to reduce the supply in ours."
In the months since Calderon took office, he's made the drug war a top and visible priority, sending uniformed Mexican soldiers into drug-trafficking centers to back up beleaguered police. He surprised U.S. officials in January by extraditing two of Mexico's most notorious drug traffickers to the United States. The extraditions of Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas and Sinaloa cartel leader Hector "El Guero (Whitey)" Palma, while welcome, were unexpected.
Some analysts thought that Calderon's decision to emphasize drug-trafficking issues may have been an effort to show his independence from the United States. His predecessor, Vicente Fox, was criticized as being too close to the United States.
"The theme he has chosen and put on the table is drug trafficking," said Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst in Mexico City. The issue allows Calderon to tout his government's actions while criticizing the United States, Crespo said.
In his welcoming remarks, Calderon also called on the U.S. to help Mexico develop its economy, saying that as long as the United States is rich in capital while Mexico is rich in cheap labor, immigration cannot be stopped "by decree."
"We may truly stop migration by building a kilometer of highway in Michoacan or Zacatecas rather than 10 kilometers of walls on the border," Calderon said, referring to two Mexican states that provide tens of thousands of migrants to the United States.
Bush repeated in Merida what he'd said Monday in Guatemala: He'll dedicate the final years of his presidency to overhauling immigration law. He appeared to criticize Republicans who oppose his initiative.
"I remind my fellow citizens that family values don't stop at the Rio Grande River," Bush said, referring to the body of water that separates Mexico and the United States. He described Mexican immigrants in the United States as "decent, hardworking, honorable citizens of Mexico who want to make a living for their families."
Throughout his tour of Latin America, Bush has maintained that U.S. foreign policy hasn't forgotten the region. In Mexico on Tuesday, he appeared to acknowledge that free-trade policies haven't trickled down sufficiently to benefit the poor.
He also appeared to support Mexico's call for more aid to its impoverished south, which hasn't received the full benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1994.
"The people of the United States understand that when we help our neighbor build a better life for themselves, we advance peace and prosperity for all of us," Bush said.
The two leaders then began a meeting that lasted about two hours in the stately Hacienda Temozon, a restored and renovated farm originally built in 1655 that's now a luxury hotel.
Sitting across from one another at a long table in a room that included an old carriage and antique leather harness, Bush and Calderon were joined at the table by nine aides each.
Among the American officials present were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
Mexicans present included Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, Government Minister Francisco Ramirez Acuna, Economy Minister Eduardo Sojo, Treasury Minister Agustin Cortens and Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora.
After lunch with Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala, Bush and first lady Laura Bush spent the afternoon touring Uxmal before dining with Calderon and Zavala.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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