Michelle Obama: “I think she will bowl Mexico and Mexicans over,” ambassador says

SHARE Michelle Obama: “I think she will bowl Mexico and Mexicans over,” ambassador says

First lady Michelle Obama lands in Mexico City Tuesday evening on her first solo official international trip, partnering for much of her short stay with Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala — who, like Mrs. Obama, is a lawyer with small children.

“I think she will bowl Mexico and Mexicans over,” Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan told me. This will be Mrs. Obama’s first time in Mexico and Sarukhan predicts enormous interest: “It will be on the front pages of every newspaper in Mexico.”

Mrs. Obama’s Mexico visit was described by one of her White House advisers on Friday as the “kick off” of her “international agenda” that will include more solo foreign travel in the months ahead with a focus on developing youth leadership, “part of the president’s broader vision around global engagement and the United States.”

That Mrs. Obama’s diplomatic debut is in Mexico underscores not only the close bilateral government relationship but also a warm personal relationship that has developed between the “first couples” of Mexico and the U.S.

Mrs. Obama dines Wednesday night at Los Pinos, the presidential residence, with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Mrs. Zavala. On May 19, President Obama and Mrs. Obama host a state dinner at the White House for Calderon and Mrs. Zavala.

Calderon, who travels to Washington on Monday for Obama’s nuclear security summit, will rush back to Mexico City on Tuesday with Sarukhan — hoping to land in time to greet Mrs. Obama on the tarmac at Benito Juarez International Airport.

Not only are Mrs. Obama, 46, and Mrs. Zavala, 42, lawyers who gave up their careers when their husbands became president, but “both President Obama and President Calderon became presidents after a grueling primary process in which neither of them were seen or perceived to be front-runners in the process,” Sarukhan said. “So I think there are a lot of issues that provide empathy between them.”

Mrs. Obama’s visit is brief — she departs Thursday morning — and it comes as U.S. and Mexican leaders are grappling with their mutual problem of escalating violence between drug cartels in Mexico who are fueled by steady consumer demand for illegal drugs in the U.S.

One of the issues Mrs. Zavala focuses on is reducing the market for drugs. When she was in Washington on Feb. 25 for a drug control demand reduction conference, she met with Mrs. Obama at the White House. I asked White House officials on Friday whether Mrs. Obama will be addressing cross-border drug issues and was told, “undoubtedly, the issue of demand reduction is one that Mrs. Zavala will draw upon” and “undoubtedly it is an issue among many that will be discussed.”

Both the U.S. and Mexico have high obesity rates; Mrs. Obama is leading a U.S. drive against childhood obesity and Mrs. Zavala also has in her portfolio addressing obesity and diabetes.

Mrs. Obama’s first stop on Wednesday is a private visit with Mrs. Zavala at Los Pinos. From there, the women tour the famed National Museum of Anthropology. Mrs. Obama was “very explicit in her desire and willingness to be able to get a sense of Mexico’s history and rich culture and its arts,” Sarukhan told me.

After that, Mrs. Obama stops at a public elementary school with low-income students and then heads to the Universidad Iberoamericana, where she delivers a speech to high school and university youths.

She returns to Los Pinos for a reception with female leaders hosted by Mrs. Zavala, followed by the dinner with the Mexican first couple. On Thursday Mrs. Obama hosts a breakfast round table with young Mexican leaders.

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