Under the presidency of Felipe Calderon, Mexico is emerging as a key international player. When Canadians think of the Canada-Mexico relationship, holidaymaking, immigration visas or Mexico's internal drug war may be the most immediately resonant issues. The drug war is indeed a critical, continent-wide concern. But at the same time, the relationship can benefit from Mexico's growing stature, on issues of trade, global economic co-operation and climate change, if Canadians are prepared to see that Mexico is evolving.
At home, Mr. Calderon's biggest preoccupation is the drug-related violence that has engulfed its northern states, triggering an outflow of people to both the U.S. and Canada. Mr. Calderon has done what his predecessors failed to do, confronting powerful, brutal and well-financed cartels with an all-out military and police assault, at great political and personal risk, and with mixed results.
Mr. Calderon had no choice but to act against the criminal syndicates, as entire communities risked falling under their influence, and his strategy and determination should be applauded. Nearly 23,000 people have been killed, however, since the campaign began in 2006. Much of the narco-violence is the result of rival cartels warring against one another; according to the government, 90 per cent of those who have died have been gangsters, their hit men or security forces - although civilians, including children, have also been killed.
The Mexican government has seized 75,000 weapons, and enough drugs to provide more than 80 doses for every young man between 15 and 30, and extradited more than 300 people to the U.S. Under Mr. Calderon's pressure, the U.S. is acknowledging its own responsibility for the violence, since Americans are both consumers of cocaine, marijuana and metamphetamines, and the suppliers of illicit weapons. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced an expansion of the $4-billion (U.S.) Merida Initiative, funds earmarked to help fight the drug war.
When asked if he would have conducted the drug war any differently, Mr. Calderon told The Globe's editorial board, "I have no regrets at all."
And it is true that Mr. Calderon had no choice but to take on the cartels, before they further infiltrated society. However, there is a good case to be made that he should have first reformed the security forces and judiciary before the assault.
More than 45,000 soldiers have been dispatched to 18 states across the country to patrol cities and man roadblocks. This has led to complaints of thousands of human-rights abuses committed by the very forces dedicated to the protection of civilians.
As the war drags on, the infiltration of the drug cartels into the ranks of local police, politicians and even the armed forces has been exposed. This week, the mayor of Cancun - and a gubernatorial candidate in upcoming elections - was arrested on drug-trafficking, money-laundering and organized-crime charges, suspected of offering information and protection to the Zetas drug gang and the Beltran Leyva cartel.
The army is allowed to investigate itself in cases involving questionable tactics and the killing of civilians. Mexico must reform this investigative process to re-establish credibility, and must undertake complete and independent investigations of all confrontations that result in death.
The Senate voted recently to assign civilian prosecutors in cases of military abuse, and to limit the deployment of troops. However, the lower house of Congress, which is dominated by the opposition, has yet to vote on these measures, and won't do so until the autumn. In the meantime, the government could move on other fronts; by, for example, prohibiting the use of torture by military and police to extract confessions - a reform which was passed in 2008 but hasn't been implemented in many states.
Mexico draws inspiration from the RCMP as it builds up a national policing capacity. But apart from eight RCMP advisers and some assistance with judicial reform, Canada is absent from the capacity-building necessary to make the drug war just, as well as effective. Canada can proactively offer more training resources, and it should be prepared to raise concerns around military impunity in its future dealings with Mexico.
On one issue, visas, the countries should be converging. A broken Canadian refugee system led Mexico to become a source for illegitimate refugee claimants, requiring the imposition of visas for Mexican visitors. Visits to Canada have fallen 40 per cent since then. With reforms at home under way, Canada should prepare, in a timely fashion, to drop visa requirements for Mexican tourists. Canada will also want to evaluate whether Mexico should be a "safe country," giving refugees from Mexico fewer appeal options in the expedited refugee determination process.
Mexico is not just a regional player, though. It is a global player, and on two of the issues requiring the most international co-operation - financial and environmental regulation - its contribution could be great.
Mr. Calderon has the potential to be a strong and persuasive ally of Stephen Harper in his attempt to roll back plans, germinating in Europe, for a bank tax (Mr. Harper is going to London and Paris next week to lobby against the proposals). As Mr. Calderon said, "A bank tax would create a moral hazard … If you create a bailout fund, you can be sure there will be bailouts."
Like Canada's, Mexico's banks were well capitalized before the economic crisis, and required no bailout. (Mr. Calderon touted the bank reserve ratios of 15 per cent, far above the 8 per cent required by international capital rules.) Mr. Calderon can also argue, on behalf of many developing countries, that what is required is more access to credit. With the prospect of some bank revenues diverted to taxation, and with Western governments already financing large budget deficits, capital is at the risk of drying up for years.
A North American bloc, if sufficiently unified and vocal, could be an effective enough counter to sink a bank tax for good.
But Mr. Harper cannot benefit from Mr. Calderon's support on international finance without realizing that Canada is growing increasingly isolated on an issue of great concern to Mexico: climate change. This November and December, Cancun will be as familiar for the environment as for its resorts (or for organized crime), as it hosts the next major UN conference on climate change.
That makes Mr. Calderon's personal diplomacy a key variable. He seems to have the skills and commitment to speak uncomfortable truths. Just as he railed against the injustice of Arizona's new immigration bill in his address to the U.S. Congress last week, he raised the need for Canadian leadership on climate change in his Thursday address to Parliament.
Mexico, meanwhile, has already played a constructive role in international climate talks. Its Green Fund proposal, to collect $10-billion in money from developed countries to finance projects that would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, helped inspire a similar model that was one of the few concrete outcomes of the 2009 Copenhagen summit.
However, without some kind of accommodation between developed and developing nations, and an understanding of the fissures within each group, Cancun still runs the risk of failing to result in concrete agreement, just as Copenhagen failed.
Mexico is well-positioned - as a developing, but oil-producing and -exporting nation with a large population and a growing manufacturing sector; with a capital, Mexico City, that was historically one of the most polluted in the world; and its grappling with climate-related issues like storms and deforestation - to bridge some of the gaps and misunderstandings.
But it needs the help of some recalcitrant allies, and Canada stands at the top of the list. Mexico's frustration with Canada on climate change is palpable. Without Canada realizing that it ought to play a more constructive role, failure at Cancun, and deteriorating relations with Mexico, are more likely.
Mexico is a growing and complicated country, facing issues around immigration, drugs and violence, and environmental change that put it at the centre of many emerging international trends. In two generations, Mexico is slated to be one of the world's largest economies. It's time for Canada to see Mexico not just as a regional concern, but as part of a global opportunity.