The presidents of the United States and Mexico are meeting Tuesday in Washington DC, in a key bilateral summit for leaders whose countries share one of the longest international land borders in the world, and an economic relationship estimated to be pumping a million dollars back and forth between that border every minute.
The presidents and their respective delegations will talk about trade, immigration, and other topics of what are called "shared priorities."
But it appears presidents Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto will not focus their meetings on the topic that in recent months has most concerned Mexican citizens and Mexican-Americans in the US — the ongoing violence related to the drug war, and the horrifying recent cases of abuse at the hands of government security forces.
'The Peña Nieto administration has so far failed to take this crisis seriously, and President Obama has been unwilling to call them on it.'
During a Monday conference call held on background with reporters, three senior White House officials spoke glowingly about the strengthening ties between the United States and Mexico in trade and commerce. Security issues were only mentioned in passing, despite the fact that at least 41,000 people have been killed violently in Mexico between the start of Peña Nieto's term in December 2012 and October 2014, according to the investigative news magazine Zeta.
Two out of four questions posed to the Obama administration officials by reporters on the call addressed security concerns. But the US officials brushed aside or talked around any suggestion that Obama will press Peña Nieto on mounting allegations of human-rights crimes on the part of Mexican security forces, from the military down to municipal police units.
In particular, the case of 43 college students who were forcibly disappeared by local police in the state of Guerrero has been at the forefront of people's minds in the country since September.
Human Rights Watch on Monday published a letter addressed to Obama, admonishing the American leader for not taking Mexico to task over its justice and security failures. The letter said the Guerrero case and a separate alleged military massacre of civilians are "not isolated incidents."
"Mexico is facing its worst human rights crisis in years, with security forces committing horrific abuses that are rarely punished," said Daniel Wilkinson, the Human Rights Watch Americas managing director, in a statement. "The Peña Nieto administration has so far failed to take this crisis seriously, and President Obama has been unwilling to call them on it."
Tens of thousands of people have marched in the streets of cities across Mexico, the United States, Europe and elsewhere in response to the case of the students missing from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, after police opened fire on them on the night of September 26 in the city of Iguala, Guerrero.
Peña has said Mexico "must change" in response to the tragedy, but little has been done concretely to tackle the major credibility challenges facing Peña Nieto's government: corruption up and down the political scale, impunity enjoyed by criminals and government actors alike, and the lack of rule of law that has had a crippling effect on Mexican society for generations.
In Monday's call, White House officials repeated a general line expressing sympathy of the victims of the Iguala police attacks, which also killed three civilians unaffiliated to the school and left dozens injured. Four students have been confirmed dead since the shootings and disappearances, but 42 remain missing.
"The core of our cooperation with Mexico has been working to improve the performance of law enforcement institutions and judicial institutions," one senior official insisted. "Those are areas that President Peña Nieto has signaled are important to him as well, so we're going to continue to look for ways to work with them on that."
Officials on the call seemed far more enthusiastic, however, about discussing continued bilateral trade with Mexico, in a clear signal of Washington's priorities when it comes to its southern neighbor. And in a sign, arguably, that the clamor from scores of protesters for real reform and accountability in Mexico has fallen on deaf ears in the White House.
"I think we see, in most respects, in the trade environment, this is, with Mexico, a complete win-win situation," one of the White House officials said. "Our economies are so integrated that improving integration [inaudible] in the world, it is actually something that benefits both Mexico and the United States."
Follow Daniel Hernandez on Twitter @longdrivesouth.