Pubdate: Thu, 15 Mar 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Sam Enriquez and Patrick J. McDonnell
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
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The President Tells Mexico's Leader He Is Optimistic About Resolving 
The Status Of Undocumented Workers

MERIDA, MEXICO -- President Bush wrapped up his Latin American tour 
Wednesday with a pledge to Mexican President Felipe Calderon that he 
would seek an accord that straddles the middle ground between amnesty 
to illegal residents and booting out more than 12 million people.

"Amnesty is not going to fly," Bush said. "There is not going to be 
automatic citizenship; it just won't work. People in the United 
States don't support that, and neither do I. Nor will kicking people 
out of the United States work. It's not practical."

Bush said he was optimistic about convincing congressional 
Republicans that resolving the status of millions of undocumented 
workers, mostly Mexican, would be in the best interests of U.S. security.

Eliminating hundreds of thousands of illegal border crossings by 
job-seekers each year would free authorities to concentrate on those 
smuggling drugs and guns, Bush said.

Calderon offered an impassioned and personal defense of the more than 
10 million Mexicans working north of the border, including some of 
his extended family.

Responding to a question during a joint news conference, Calderon 
confirmed that he had relatives working in vegetable fields in the 
United States, adding, "They probably handle what you eat." But he 
said he didn't know their legal status.

"What I can tell you is that they work and pay their taxes to the 
government" of the United States, Calderon said. "These are people 
who respect the United States. These are people who have children, 
who want these children to be educated with respect for the land 
where they live and for Mexico."

Calderon narrowly won election last year with promises of attracting 
investment and creating jobs that would keep Mexicans home. He echoed 
that theme Wednesday, noting that half of the residents of his home 
state of Michoacan were working abroad, part of an expatriate 
community that last year sent home more than $20 billion.

"We want them to come back," he said. "We want them to find jobs here 
in Mexico."

Bush spoke sympathetically of the plight of men, women and children 
who embark on the often dangerous border crossing.

"A system that encourages people to sneak across the border is a 
system that leads to human rights abuses," Bush said. "It's a system 
that allows for the exploitation of citizens who are trying to earn a 
living for their families."

But Bush's low popularity and lame-duck status has sapped the 
political capital he would need to shepherd immigration reforms 
through a Democrat-controlled Congress. During his trip, Bush 
acknowledged that Republicans need to reach a consensus before a deal 
can go forward.

Bush praised Calderon's fight against the Mexican drug cartels that 
ferry drugs across the border in cars, trucks and planes and through tunnels.

Calderon told Bush Tuesday that he could not win his war on drugs 
without reductions in U.S. demand for the marijuana, cocaine, heroin 
and methamphetamine that move by the ton through his country. The 
drug trade has overwhelmed and corrupted many local governments and 
it cost more 2,000 lives in Mexico last year.

Bush on Wednesday acknowledged a responsibility "to convince people 
to use less drugs." Calderon said the two men had agreed to better 
coordinate the fight against organized crime. What increased role the 
U.S. would play in Mexico was unclear.

"Mexico is obviously a sovereign nation," Bush said. "But the Mexican 
government can lay out a plan where the U.S. can be a constructive partner."

After two days of talks, Bush affirmed strong ties with Mexico, the 
United States' third-largest trading partner..

Mexico was the last stop on Bush's five-nation visit to Latin 
America, designed to shore up the United States' declining image in 
the region. Many saw the trip as a popularity contest between Bush 
and leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who shadowed Bush's 
weeklong trip with a tour of his own.

Few Latin American commentators said they believed Bush had reversed 
years of inattention to the region. Many gave the president credit 
for making the trip, but critics ridiculed the $1.6-billion-a-year 
U.S. aid package as crumbs compared with Venezuelan President Hugo 
Chavez' oil-funded largesse.

Left-leaning governments in Brazil and Uruguay were clearly pleased 
with the president's visit, despite large anti-Bush protests. The 
leaders of both nations calculated that they could afford some 
discontent in exchange for the benefits of closer U.S. ties.

Uruguay's agriculture and livestock minister, Jose "Pepe" Mujica, an 
ex-leftist guerrilla, declared his country "much better off than 
before" after meeting with Bush.

In Brazil, the region's most populous country and the ninth-largest 
economy in the world, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was keen to 
elevate his stature and diminish Chavez's rising star. Brazil emerged 
as the chief beneficiary of the trip, with a partnership to develop 
and produce plant-based fuels.

"Even if the economic issues are not resolved, this was still a 
diplomatic victory for Lula," said Rogerio Schmitt, an analyst with 
the Tendencias consulting firm in Sao Paulo.

The tour may reverberate most strongly in Argentina, where Bush 
didn't stop. President Nestor Kirchner was criticized for allowing 
Chavez to stage a rambunctious anti-Bush rally at a stadium as the 
U.S. president arrived in Uruguay.

Some commentators said Chavez's shrill rhetoric may have alienated moderates.

But Kirchner, whose leftist government has received more than $3 
billion in indirect aid from Venezuela, defended himself and Chavez.

"We will always stand in solidarity with ... our Latin American 
brothers who have helped us," a defiant Kirchner said.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman