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Mexico And The Debate: Perhaps The Policy Isn’t Foreign

Above: President Barack Obama (R) debates with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as moderator Bob Schieffer (C) of CBS looks on at the Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University on October 22, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida.

— At Monday night’s presidential debate on foreign policy, much was said about China and the Middle East. But after the political spin, many across the Southwest were wondering why Mexico didn’t deserve some consideration.

If you weren’t paying close attention to the third presidential debate you might have missed the only time our neighbors to the south were included. It came when former Governor Mitt Romney was talking up improving trade with Latin America.

“The opportunities for us in Latin America we have just not taken advantage of fully," Romney said. "As a matter of fact, Latin America’s economy is almost as big as the economy of China. We’re all focused on China. Latin America is a huge opportunity for us.”

This wasn’t the first time that Romney made this political point and President Barack Obama gave it no heed.

But in an election where the Latino vote is considered critical, shouldn’t Latin America get more than a passing mention? And Mexico -- a nation that the U.S. shares a 2,000 mile border with -- was completely ignored.

Cynthia J. Arnson is director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“It is a huge insult. There is a lot of criticism that Latin America has slipped off the agenda, not only of this administration but of national policy in general and we all know that there are huge issues in the bilateral relationship that involves the key issues of immigration," Arnson said.

But immigration -- is that a foreign policy issue? Or domestic? What about the drug war -- foreign or domestic? And border security?

That’s the rub with Mexico issues -- they are so tightly intertwined with domestic issues that they are tough to tease out. But that’s an argument for giving Mexico more campaign air time, not ignoring it.

And don’t think some of the 24 million registered Latino voters in America didn’t notice that Mexico didn’t rate in the debate, said Juan Guillermo Tornoe, owner of Hispanic Trending Inc., a marketing and advertising firm in Austin, Texas.

“Definitely people paid attention. We see it in cyberspace, we see it on and offline, domestically as well as internationally," Tornoe said.

Tornoe said Latino voters care about the rising death toll in Mexico related to the drug war and its impact on the American Southwest.

“This is just south of our border, this is right next door, and that is important," Tornoe said.

But Arnson said sometimes it’s a good thing to be ignored in a presidential debate.

“In a large sense Latin America has become boring," she said. "I mean, there are lots of success stories.”

Arnson said in past debates when Mexico was mentioned it wasn’t always in a flattering way.

Remember Ross Perot in 1992?

“There will be a giant sucking sound going south.”

Is no sound in a debate better than a giant sucking sound? It’s debatable.

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