US first lady Michelle Obama met her Mexican counterpart, danced with children and sought to inspire students on Wednesday during a solo trip aimed at reinforcing ties with Mexico.
The US first lady discussed the treatment of migrants and youth drug addiction with Margarita Zavala at the presidential Los Pinos Palace, a White House statement said, in a nation reeling from drug-related violence in which more than 22,700 people have died since the end of 2006.
Zavala’s husband, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, has received growing support from US President Barack Obama’s administration in his brutal drug war and Michelle Obama’s trip followed a string of high-level visits to Mexico.
“We have to fight the [drug] war, but keep looking at other ways to address the problem,” Michelle Obama said in an interview on CNN in Spanish broadcast on Wednesday.
“Education is — is also key to this issue,” she added.
On her first international solo outing, after a brief stop on Tuesday in Haiti to show support three months after its devastating earthquake, the US first lady underlined that her foreign agenda would focus on young people.
“All you have to do is believe in yourself,” Michelle Obama said in a speech to Mexican students which highlighted her and her husband’s “modest” backgrounds.
“Yes we can. Gracias,” she concluded.
Dozens of children, some in wheelchairs, earlier performed music for Obama as she visited Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology.
“We’re excited, even though we’ve performed before,” said Maria Hernandez, a young violinist accompanying the choir.
Michelle Obama later jumped around and danced with children at a public elementary school funded by a US foundation, before hugging many of them.
“When it came for me to decide where to make my first solo international trip as the first lady, the choice was clear. Mexico por supuesto [of course],” Obama said in her speech to students.
Some 12 million documented and undocumented Mexicans are estimated to live in the US, which accounts for some 80 percent of Mexico’s foreign trade.
The US first lady was to dine with the Mexican presidential couple later on Wednesday and to meet with community youth leaders and US embassy employees in Mexico City yesterday, before traveling to an event on childhood obesity in San Diego, California.
Her visit came as the US was drawn further into Mexico’s battle against violent drug gangs, particularly along the 3,200km US-Mexico border.
Three US consulate-linked employees were shot dead in the border city of Ciudad Juarez last month and attackers tossed a grenade at the consulate in the northeastern city of Nuevo Laredo last week, causing no injuries.
The US State Department on Monday updated a travel advisory for Mexico, including a warning against unnecessary travel to some border areas.
In a sign of strengthening US-Mexico relations, the Mexican president and his wife will be the guests of honor at the second White House state dinner of Barack Obama’s presidency next month, and Calderon will make a speech to a joint session of Congress.