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Published: Tuesday, 5/7/2013

Southern swing

President Obama’s trip to Latin America last week, the first of his second term, sought to reset U.S. relations with Mexico and Central American countries from an emphasis on drugs, guns, and immigration to a focus on economics.

Mr. Obama’s most important stop was in Mexico, a vital American partner with a new president, Enrique Pena Nieto.

Because Mr. Obama sees immigration reform as a centerpiece of his second term, the complex, multifaceted relations between the United States and Mexico have domestic political implications. These include illegal drugs that make their way to the United States across the border, and U.S. guns that cross it the other way. They also include the fate of at least half of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States who are believed to be Mexican citizens.

Their future is an important element of American domestic wrangling over an eventual immigration bill. Hispanic Americans, the highest percentage of whom are of Mexican origin, voted in large part for Mr. Obama in 2012.

The nature of Mexican cooperation with the United States in drug and security matters is a high-priority controversy for Mexico’s president. Mr. Nieto wants all coordination between the two countries to take place through the Mexican interior ministry. In the past, many institutions of both governments were involved; that resulted, Mr. Nieto believes, in inefficiency and corruption.

During his visit, Mr. Obama stressed the bright prospects of the economic side of U.S.-Mexican relations. The previous U.S. emphasis on drugs, guns, and security has not appeared to bring many positive results for either country.

The United States is Mexico’s largest trading partner, and Mexico is the United States’ third largest, after Canada and China. Mr. Obama and Mr. Nieto must build on that strong foundation.

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