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The News
México City, May 3, 2001

Helms, Biden say U.S. and Mexico have much in common

Facing Tremendous Challenges, Nations Must Not Squander Opportunity


Special to the Los Angeles Times

Helms Praises Mexico's Fox

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

MEXICO CITY -- Proclaiming a new spirit of cooperation between the United States and Mexico, visiting U.S. senators said Tuesday that the two countries are gradually finding common ground on divisive issues such as immigration, drugs and Cuba.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said Mexico pledged to recognize human rights abuses in Cuba during a U.N. vote today in Geneva, although it would continue its policy of abstaining from the vote.

The U.N. resolutions were "unilateral, selective and politicized," Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda reportedly told the senators.

Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox, has promised to take a more active role against human rights abuses within and outside Mexico's borders. That has put him in an awkward position re- garding Cuba.

Biden said he understood that the issue was politically difficult for the Mexican government, historically Cuba's closest friend in Latin America.

"I don't think you'll see a change in vote," he said. "I think we'll see a change in explanation."

Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., praised Fox, and said the senators were in Mexico to do everything to help him succeed.

The tone at the senators' meeting with Fox was more cordial than one held in November. Fox and the senators discussed education, drug trafficking, economic and social development, immigration, border issues and relations Monday.

On Tuesday, Biden supported opening the borders from "Costa Rica to Canada," an idea that Fox has voiced often since his election July 2. "There is no reason we can't move in that direction," Biden said.

Having recently returned from meetings in Mexico City with President Vicente Fox and other key Mexican leaders, it is clear to us a confluence of events has produced a political environment ripe for genuine progress between our two great nations.

Even before our trip - the first formal meeting in history of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a congressional committee of another nation - we shared the view the United States and Mexico have much more in common than the problems that often conspire to divide us. We are not just neighbors, we are democratic allies. And we are not just each other's problem with respect to migration and drugs, and a host of other issues - including trade, energy and disparities of economic opportunity. We are, potentially, each other's solution.

President Fox reinforced this view during our discussions with him.

He stressed the importance of having a special relationship with the United States that enhances Mexico's ability to fulfill its destiny of being a prosperous and mature partner in the region, an achievement that will further the national interests of both countries.

Indeed, significant steps on both sides already have been taken to counter the narcotics trade. President Fox expressed profound appreciation for the recent actions of our committee on legislation to provide a three-year trial period during which current certification procedures are replaced with a new process designed to single out only those countries that fail to adhere to their international narcotics agreements.

This approach also calls upon U.S. President George W. Bush to explore more fruitful, multilateral arrangements to improve international cooperation to counter the narcotics trade. In short, this is an opportunity for the Bush and Fox administrations, together with others in the hemisphere, to work to address the transnational drug threat.

At the same time, President Fox and other Mexican leaders are now aware of the insidious nature and broad ramifications on public health of the narco-industry. Mexico today understands it cannot view drugs solely through the prism of being a producing or transiting nation; it is now also a consuming nation.

Acknowledging this reality, the new Mexican government has taken several important steps. President Fox, Foreign Relations Secretary Jorge Castañeda and Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha readily admit institutionalized corruption has impaired Mexico's efforts to counter the narcotics trade and damaged its credibility with U.S. law enforcement. Both Mexican federal and local law enforcement are now mounting a more effective counter-narcotics strategy that also rebuilds mutual trust with their U.S. counterparts.

Concerted actions and sustained efforts by Mexican authorities will be the test of whether the Fox administration is committed to doing everything possible to investigate, prosecute and extradite drug criminals within that nation's borders, but the early signs are positive. Similarly, the United States remains committed to doing everything possible here at home to reduce the demand for drugs.

And while resolving Mexico's migration problem requires mutual cooperation, we come at these matters from different perspectives. But we understand one another more than ever before, especially the domestic pressures facing leaders in both nations, and both are ready to tackle the hard issues with a greater degree of trust.

Even on the difficult issue of Cuba, we found common ground. Foreign Relations Secretary Castañeda indicated Mexico will be a leader in defending and advancing democracy and human rights in the hemisphere.

We were warmly welcomed by our counterparts in the Mexican Senate, a pluralist group drawn from all of the nation's major political parties. For the first time, the concept of checks and balances is an integral part of Mexico's democracy, with senators relishing the prospect of exercising leverage and power.

They are eager to work closely with us in the spirit of mutuality to shape hemispheric policies in areas such as energy production and distribution, and other areas of resource allocation.

There are tremendous challenges ahead for the Fox administration, especially given the sense of heightened expectations in both countries. Similarly, we must not squander the opportunity to work closely with a friendly government to achieve goals of mutual interest. As Sen. Helms told our counterparts in the Mexican Senate, ''We want Mexico, and the Mexican people, to succeed and prosper. A prospering Mexico is good not only for the Mexican people but for the American people as well.''

Helms (Rep.-North Carolina) and Biden (Dem.-Delaware) are the chairman and senior Democrat, respectively, on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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