Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, will be inaugurated today, and President Barack Obama met with him on Tuesday, signaling the importance of U.S. relations with our neighbor to the south something almost entirely ignored during the election campaign.
That renewed focus on Mexico should be welcome in California. That nation is the largest market for exports of California-made goods. And, of course, California has enduring people-to-people exchanges with Mexico.
As Mexico's middle class now nearly 40 million continues to grow, California and the United States will benefit from Mexico's increasingly open economy and increasing democratic stability. As Peña Nieto takes office, Californians should look anew for commercial, academic, cultural and entrepreneurial opportunities with Mexico.
It was not all that long ago that Mexico was a one-party state. The first truly democratic election took place in 2000, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost the presidency for the first time in 70 years to the National Action Party (PAN).
Though some experts have expressed concern that the once-authoritarian PRI is back after a 12-year hiatus with the election of Peña Nieto, the party did not win a majority in either house of Congress. Peña Nieto will have to negotiate with the others which he did effectively when he was governor of Mexico's largest state.
While the U.S.-Mexico relationship is so much more than concerns about drug trafficking and border security, those remain issues.
Former President Felipe Calderón launched a crackdown on drug cartels that has had trade-offs. On the one hand, many kingpins have been captured or killed. On the other, gang wars erupted that left more than 60,000 people dead.
Mexico may have turned a corner. The murder rate is now falling for the first time in five years 20 of Mexico's 31 states recorded declines in 2011. Peña Nieto and the United States should build on that.
All three of Mexico's political parties have said they would support a shift away from direct confrontation to a more sophisticated strategy of intelligence gathering and a focus on kidnapping and murder.
In this week's feature on Mexico, The Economist magazine suggests that Mexico may be among the world's 10 largest economies by the end of the decade. That certainly is something to build on.
President Calderón visited California in 2008 and delivered a speech that February before a joint session of the California Legislature. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders should extend a similar invitation to President Peña Nieto, and begin to establish a relationship.