Calderon pressures Bush on immigration

Times Staff Writers

Mexican President Felipe Calderon chastised President Bush on Tuesday for doing too little to stem the causes of illegal immigration and for failing to curb the U.S. appetite for illegal drugs.

Opening a two-day meeting aimed at easing strained relations, Calderon reminded Bush that he had once said that “there is no relationship the world over that is more relevant to the United States than the one with Mexico.”

“Unfortunately, [because of] the terrible events against the United States, priorities changed,” said Calderon, referring to the Sept. 11 attacks. “Nevertheless, I believe that it is now time to retake the spirit of those words and to direct our relationship toward a path of mutual prosperity.”


Calderon told Bush of the pain caused in Mexico by the departure of millions of migrants, a movement that has divided families and emptied pueblos. The costs are more than personal, he said.

“Mexicans lose in each migrant the best of our people: young people, working people, audacious people, strong people,” Calderon said. “This is why we want to generate jobs for Mexicans here in Mexico, because that is the only way to truly solve the immigration issue.”

When it was his turn to speak, Bush repeated pledges made a day earlier in Guatemala that he would work forcefully to pass an immigration overhaul this year, as well as reduce the demand for illegal drugs.

“I respect your views on migration,” Bush said. “Because we’re working together, I believe we will make good progress on this important issue,” he added. “Together, we’re working to ensure that we have a secure and modern border that speeds the legitimate flow of people and commerce, and stop those who threaten our common safety and prosperity.”

Calderon’s opening remarks, delivered at a lush hacienda about 30 miles outside this former Maya stronghold, were unusually pointed for a welcome speech, when presidents tend to exchange pleasantries, saving their differences for later.

White House officials said the frank tone was not surprising.

“The fact that they were direct with each other in public and direct with each other behind closed doors is a sign of the maturity of the relationship ... and that we are partners,” said Dan Fisk, Bush’s top advisor on Latin America. “But we both have domestic dynamics that neither president is going to deny.”


Calderon, who began his six-year term in December, would like to be seen here as standing up to the United States and as a strong leader who is seeking more respect for Mexico than his predecessor, Vicente Fox.

In his nationally televised address, Calderon accused Bush of seeking the wrong solution to illegal immigration by signing a law that would build or improve 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, a barrier widely seen by Mexicans as hostile and ineffective.

The two neighboring economies are complementary but not equal, said Calderon, with Mexico awash in labor and the United States rich in capital. Immigration can be stopped, he said, “not by decree” but by investment and new jobs in Mexico.

During his campaign last year, Calderon acknowledged that his cousin and brother-in-law had gone to find work north of the border. He’d told voters he would be Mexico’s jobs president, drawing investment money to create more work.

Echoing a line from his campaign speeches, Calderon said that money for half a mile of road in Mexico would do more to stem illegal immigration than five miles of walls at the border.

Calderon is hosting Bush in one of the few cities in Mexico without an immigration problem. Colonial-era Merida draws tourists to its shops, central square and nearby Maya ruins.


“People from all over the world live here and visit here. They bring money, and money means jobs,” said Mauricio Rivera, 30, who has worked as a waiter and taxi driver. “It’s rare for people to leave.”

Merida also is safely in the hands of Calderon’s conservative National Action Party. The anti-Bush demonstrations here were small, in stark contrast with those in the capital last summer, when tens of thousands of Mexicans protested Calderon’s razor-thin election win.

Tuesday night, 20 to 30 protesters threw rocks through the windows of City Hall and sprayed graffiti on its front before police chased them away. At least 10 protesters were arrested.

In Mexico City, more than 100 protesters battled police for more than an hour Tuesday outside the U.S. Embassy. Protesters hurling rocks retreated when police fired tear gas and counter-attacked with truncheons, Mexican media reported. Several police officers were injured, authorities said. At least five protesters were arrested after the demonstrators attempted to knock down a metal fence outside the embassy’s perimeter.

Calderon, who has dispatched the Mexican army to eight states to reduce drug violence, pledged Monday to do his part to slow the supply of drugs crossing into the United States from Mexico.

But Calderon said he could not succeed in the drug war unless the United States reduced the billions of dollars a year its citizens spend on drugs.


“We need the collaboration and the active participation of our neighbor, knowing that while there is no reduction in demand in your territory, it will be very difficult to reduce supply in ours,” Calderon said.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the two discussed the drug issue during talks later in the day.

Although the American president did not go into detail on reducing demand, he told Calderon the U.S. role in the drug war is to be aggressive at every stage: cultivation, transportation, the breakup of drug rings and figuring out economic alternatives for those dependent on the drug trade, Snow said.

As he has at nearly every stop on his seven-day trip, Bush took in some sights, touring the Maya ruins at Uxmal.

Bush was on the last stop of his trip to improve U.S. relations with Latin America. He is scheduled to return to Washington today.



Times staff writer Hector Tobar in Mexico City contributed to this report.