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Obama welcome in Mexico City; his entourage, not so much

May 02, 2013|By Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez

This post has been updated. See below.

MEXICO CITY — President Obama arrived for his two-day diplomatic mission to Mexico on Thursday afternoon with a 54% favorability rating among Mexicans, according to one national poll [link in Spanish].

But he shouldn’t count Hortensia Muñoz, a Mexico City food vendor, among his fans.

Key sectors of the sprawling capital have in effect been shut down in advance of Obama’s two-day visit, including the area around Obama’s hotel, the Presidente InterContinental, in the upscale Polanco neighborhood. Officials told Muñoz that  she won’t be able to set up her sidewalk food stand a few blocks away.

“I’m really worried,” said Muñoz, 54. “For me, ese señor Obama isn’t welcome. It’s his fault that I’m not going to be able to sell anything for two days, and believe me, my family and I survive on what I sell here.”

[Updated,  2:30 p.m. May 2: Obama may be popular in Mexico, but no one likes having his or her life disrupted by the increasingly complicated logistics created by the post-Sept. 11 American presidential cortege.]

In security-conscious Mexico City, locals are inured to suffering the important and powerful — oligarchs, drug dealers, politicians — and their retinues of bodyguards and black Chevy Suburbans. So far, the Mexican news media have treated the security details of the presidential visit with a kind of awe, as if Obama were the capo de tutti capi.

“POLANCO IS A BUNKER,” read a front-page headline in the newspaper Reforma.

The Mexico City airport suspended all takeoffs and landings as Air Force One landed Thursday afternoon, when it was greeted by a Mexican military honor guard decked out in black berets and white gloves and spats. The airport will shut down for half an hour at midday Friday, as Obama takes off for Costa Rica, where he plans to meet with Central American leaders.

Reforma columnist Sergio Sarmiento called the shutdowns “intolerable.”

“With such costs, these visits aren’t welcomed,” he grumbled.

Milenio, the 24-hour cable news channel, showed video of buff-looking gringos in T-shirts, identifying them as part of the massive U.S. security presence that had come to protect the president. They joined Mexican security personnel in the Zocalo, the massive square that is the administrative and spiritual center of Mexico, where barriers blocked off access to pedestrians and traffic. There, in the national palace, Obama was scheduled to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and hold a joint news conference.

The meeting between the two heads of state has been preceded by reports of U.S. concern about Peña Nieto’s government potentially seeking to create some distance between the two countries in the realm of security. The U.S. was given unprecedented leeway in helping Mexico fight its powerful drug cartels under the previous president, Felipe Calderon, and there are some indications that the new government may be seeking to recalibrate the relationship.

But on Thursday, tensions were not evident to the public. Just before Air Force One touched down, Peña Nieto tweeted a warm welcome:

“I know that this visit will be a great benefit to our nations,” he wrote. His Facebook cover photo was updated with an image of the Mexican and U.S. flags flying together.

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