As Presidents Meet, Mexico Ready to Shed Negative Image

By Tony Castro, Voxxi

President Barack Obama welcomes Mexico’s president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto this week amid Mexican belief that it is their moment even as their country struggles with drug cartel violence and a continuing negative image in America.

Mexico’s optimism is bolstered by a growing middle class, a stabilizing security situation and the prospects for energy and institutional reforms that leaders believe strengthen the country’s economic, political and hemispheric influence.

“Mexico, in spite of a long season of security and violence stories, is attracting investment,” says Antonio Garza, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and now in private practice for an American law firm in Mexico City.

“Why? Because people putting money in a country read beyond the headlines. They know that other emerging markets face similar challenges.”

Americans continue to have a negative image of Mexico

Still, an unprecedented new study reports that Americans continue to have a negative image of Mexico, largely because of the drug violence in that country.

Half of all Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Mexico, with fewer than 20 percent viewing its economy as modern and more than 70 percent believing it is unsafe for travel, according to the survey conducted by Vianovo in partnership with GSD&M.

“President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto inherits a Mexico whose image has been battered by the drug violence,” says Vianovo founding partner James Taylor.

“But with a growing middle class and strong GDP growth, Pena Nieto has an opportunity to expand the focus of the relationship beyond security to include immigration, trade and economic issues — to the benefit of both nations.”

The survey, though, found that almost 60 percent of Americans see Mexico more as a source of problems for the U.S., while only one in seven believe that Mexico is a good partner and neighbor.

Among conservatives, the attitude toward Mexico was even harsher. Almost 80 percent see Mexico as a source of problems for the U.S.

Despite those findings, some businessmen remain optimistic about Mexico’s prospects.

Mexico has many positive economic and cultural stories to tell, but changing perceptions will take a concerted effort in both the U.S. and Mexico,” says GSD&M executive Duff Stewart.

Obama will host Peña Nieto on Tuesday. Peña Nieto will be sworn into office Dec. 1.

“The President looks forward to meeting President-elect Peña Nieto and hearing about his vision for leading Mexico over the next six years,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

“They plan to discuss a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues during their Oval Office meeting. The President welcomes the opportunity to underscore the shared values and strong bonds of friendship between the United States and Mexico.

The United States remains committed to work in partnership with Mexico to increase economic competitiveness in both countries, promote regional development, advance bilateral efforts to develop a secure and efficient 21st Century Border, and address our common security challenges.

This article was first published in Voxxi.

Los Angeles-based writer Tony Castro is the author of the critically-acclaimed “Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America” and the best-selling “Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son.”

[Photo courtesy World Economic Forum]

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