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Mexico is missing from presidential debate

Alejandro Escalona

Alejandro Escalona

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Updated: November 26, 2012 7:12AM

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney wrestled for 90 minutes Monday night over key foreign policy issues — from China to Iran to Afghanistan to Israel.

But they left out Mexico.

I understand that the serious situations in Iran, Libya and Syria demand considerable attention from both candidates, as do the challenges of ending the war in Afghanistan and responding to China’s rise as an economic superpower.

But you’d think Mexico’s problems might warrant at least a few minutes of debate, given how directly everything that happens south of our border affects us, too.

Romney touched on the growing importance of the economies of South America, but both candidates failed to acknowledge the critical importance of the Mexican economy and the raging drug war there, which has taken more than 70,000 lives.

Chances are, actually, that your own job depends at least in part on our nation’s economic relationship with Mexico.

Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner. In 2011, trade between the two countries neared $500 billion and, despite the drug war violence, continues to grow.

According to a study by the Woodrow Wilson international Center for Scholars, six million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico. The study estimates that one in every 24 American workers depends on U.S.-Mexico trade for their employment.

The two economies are so interconnected that Mexicans often say that when the U.S. gets a cold, Mexico gets pneumonia.

It was disappointing, then, not to hear from Obama and Romney about just how they would grow bilateral relations with Mexico. It would have been illuminating to hear how the Mexican economy could further help the U.S. offset the growing economic power of China.

And I simply cannot figure out how the drug war in Mexico could be so completely ignored during Monday’s debate. Outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon leaves a country with entire regions in control of the drug cartels, which have infiltrated the government, the police and even the army. Calderon was a U.S. ally in the war on drugs and received millions of dollars in military aid.

On this side of the border, drug trafficking is the main cause for most homicides in cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The demand and supply of narcotics have turned Chicago neighborhoods into war zones.

The next U.S. president might find a potentially explosive situation in Mexico. Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto’s legitimacy is in question because many Mexicans think he and his party, the infamous Revolutionary Institutional Party, returned to power through fraud.

And there’s this nagging question: Will Pena Nieto secretly negotiate peace with the drug cartels, as former PRI politicians did in the past?

I recently posed that question to Adela Navarro Bello, editor of the prestigious magazine Zeta, which is published in Tijuana and respected worldwide for its coverage of the drug war and government corruption.

“We’re afraid the PRI would return to the old practices and negotiate with the drug cartels,” Navarro Bello told me.

Beyond debates, I just hope our next president, whomever he is, understands how critical Mexico is to the United States.

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