- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009

MEXICO CITY | Mexican President Felipe Calderon, ahead of a meeting and joint press conference with President Obama, called on the United States to pass an immigration bill as part of a new partnership between the two countries, even as he said Mexico welcomes U.S. business investment.

“Open up the door of hope,” Mr. Calderon said at a ceremony to welcome Mr. Obama for a one-day visit to Mexico before they both go to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas, a gathering of the Western Hemisphere’s leaders, this weekend.

For his part, Mr. Obama barely mentioned the thorny issue of immigration other than to praise Mexicans’ cultural contributions and say that one-third of his home town of Chicago is of Mexican origin.

Both men reprised former President Kennedy’s declaration that the two nations share a border but are also friends and allies, and they promised to usher in a new era of cooperation.

Mr. Calderon spoke almost as if Mexico was trying to sell itself as worthy of being partners with the United Stats. The Mexican president touted his own efforts to fight drugs and his country’s commitment to freedom and democracy.

“We believe it is possible to transform Mexico,” he said.

He said Mexico needs American investment just as “the United States of America needs the strength of the Mexican labor force.”

In an opinion piece published before his arrival in three U.S. newspapers iand in publications from Mexico to Chile, Mr. Obama said Latin America needs to move beyond debates over capitalism versus socialism, and defended his decision to ease but not fully lift the U.S. trade and travel embargo to Cuba.

“Each of our countries has pursued its own democratic journey, but we must be joined together in our commitment to liberty, equality and human rights,” Mr. Obama wrote.

In an interview Wednesday with CNN en Espanol, Mr. Obama also laid out what Cuba needs to do to get the half-century-old U.S. embargo lifted.

“What we’re looking for is some signal that there are going to be changes in how Cuba operates, that assures that political prisoners are released, that people can speak their minds freely, that they can travel, that they can write and attend church, and do the things that people throughout the hemisphere can do and take for granted,” Mr. Obama said. “And if there’s some sense of movement on those fronts in Cuba, then I think that we can see a further thawing of relations and further changes.”

He said his decision this week to lift some of the strictest parts of the ban on remittances and relatives traveling to Cuba was “a signal of our good faith that we want to move beyond the Cold War mentality.”

Latin American leaders have been pressing for Washington to lift its embargo, and Mr. Obama will find himself having to explain where he sees his Cuba policy going.

The 33 leaders of North and and South American countries are also likely to call for the United States to do more to help countries suffering from the international financial crisis, which in many ways they see as a problem rooted in the troubles of the American economy.

In his opinion piece, Mr. Obama said the entire hemisphere needs to move beyond discussions based on ideology.

“To confront our economic crisis, we dont need a debate about whether to have a rigid, state-run economy or unbridled and unregulated capitalism — we need pragmatic and responsible action that advances our common prosperity. To combat lawlessness and violence, we dont need a debate about whether to blame right-wing paramilitaries or left-wing insurgents — we need practical cooperation to expand our common security,” he wrote.