MEXICO CITY — Making her first solo international foray, first lady Michelle Obama Wednesday met with her Mexican counterpart and touched on the sensitive topic of drug treatment in a nation reeling from a war against narcotics cartels.
Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala received Obama at Los Pinos, the Mexican presidential compound near the Chapultepec Park in the heart of the capital. The two spoke for 45 minutes about "drug addiction treatment and early prevention programs" and care for migrant children, a White House statement said.
A battle between rival drug cartels in Mexico has left some 22,700 people dead since late 2006, and drug-related violence increasingly is hitting U.S. targets.
Gunmen killed three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez last month, and tossed a hand grenade into the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo April 9 that shattered windows.
After their meeting, the two first ladies sped in a convoy to the Museum of Anthropology to view its Mayan and Aztec artefacts, then were to go to a primary school, Siete de Enero, serving underprivileged children. Later, Obama is to speak to university students.
Despite the first lady’s largely non-political agenda, one expert said her trip would bolster relations with Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
“President Obama’s got such a full plate and Mexico is probably not even in his top 10 priorities,” said Robert P. Watson, a scholar and editor of several books on first ladies. Michelle Obama’s trip, he added, “reassures Mexico and Latin America that we haven’t forgotten them.”
Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, accompanied the first lady, and Watson said that was notable since many “presidents and VPs in history were anything but close friends and the same can be said for many first ladies and VP wives.”
On her way to Mexico, after a five-hour stop in earthquake-devastated Haiti, the first lady lauded her host, Margarita Zavala, as “smart and passionate.” Both women are lawyers with young children.
She also highlighted what she called her “youth engagement” campaign.
“My message to the young people is that success, and possibility, doesn’t know race, a background, a gender, a socio-economic class, that we’re going to need the energy, the passion, of every single young person,” she said on a video released by the White House.
Obama met with a traveling U.S. press corps, and conducted a series of one-on-one interviews with Mexican media, which offered intense coverage of her visit.
Some coverage focused on the sartorial aspects of what the El Universal newspaper labeled the “first lady of fashion.” On her arrival Tuesday night, Michelle Obama wore a sleeveless floral dress, bending down and giving a kiss on the cheek to dozens of children greeting her at the airport, clutching paper U.S. and Mexican flags.
Watson said the Ivy League-educated first lady may be reining in a desire to step into thornier issues, but is sticking to “safe issues that have a feminine touch,” such as childhood obesity, the welfare of military families, exercise, and organic gardening projects in conjunction with elementary schools.
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