| MEXICO CITY
MEXICO CITY U.S. first lady Michelle Obama pressed for better education for the young on Wednesday in her first solo trip abroad to Mexico, where poor teenagers are increasingly being drawn into a brutal drug war.
Mexico is struggling to contain escalating drug violence fueled by U.S. demand for illegal narcotics, and hundreds of jobless young Mexicans are dying as hitmen each month, enticed into the country's drug underworld.
"If young people don't have an alternative in their lives whatever country they are in, they are going to choose drugs, they're going to choose the drug trade, that's the way they make money," Obama told reporters in Mexico City.
"We have to not just focus on curbing demand for drugs and dealing with cartels, but also looking at expanding opportunity for young people," she added.
More than 22,700 people have died in Mexico's drug war since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006 and sent the army to fight powerful cartels fighting over smuggling routes into the United States.
Mexican teenagers as young as 15, known as "narco juniors," are killing rivals for a few hundred dollars in U.S. border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, where jobs and opportunities for young people are few.
In Mexico City, Obama met Calderon's wife, Margarita Zavala, at the presidential residence on Wednesday morning, where they discussed drug addiction treatment and programs to stop youths being enticed into narcotics use.
The escalating violence is a concern in Washington, which is sending Mexico more than $1 billion in anti-drug aid, and is scaring off tourists and forcing some investors to freeze investment in border factories.
Mexico's growing insecurity was underscored by the head of a private university where Obama gave a speech on Wednesday. "Your visit, you well know, is at a complex and delicate time for our country in which violence and insecurity have become the painful reality," said Jose Morales, the rector of the Ibero-American University in Mexico City, before Obama spoke.
Drug hitmen killed at least five people, including a minor, in an attack on the tourist strip in Acapulco on Wednesday, Mexican media said.
SPOTLIGHT ON HAITI
After an unannounced stop in earthquake-hit Haiti, Obama arrived in the Mexican capital on Tuesday night.
"I think this was good timing because it brings attention back to Haiti," Obama told reporters in Mexico City.
Hundreds of people in Haiti are living in tent cities as the hurricane season approaches, threatening to bring new misery to the poor Caribbean country after the quake claimed as many as 300,000 lives.
In Mexico, the first ladies, both lawyers with young families, visited Mexico's anthropology museum and listened to a youth concert and a choral performance by disabled children.
She also won cheers from poor children in a working-class area of Mexico City where she watched dancers at a school.
Her visit solidifies her husband's interest in Mexico after he traveled twice to meet with Calderon here since taking office in January 2009.
Mexico, which sends the bulk of its exports to the United States, is heavily dependent on the U.S. economy and is a major oil supplier to its northern neighbor.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)