April 14, 2010 / 2:54 PM / 10 years ago

Michelle Obama meets Mexico's first lady in solo visit

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - First lady Michelle Obama danced with school children in a working-class area of Mexico City on Wednesday during her first solo foreign trip aimed at boosting ties between the neighboring countries.

First lady Michelle Obama waves during her visit to the Siete de Enero school in Mexico City, April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte

Hundreds of children, some of whom work at outdoor markets to earn extra money for their families, screamed and cheered as the wife of President Barack Obama joined in a dance performance at a top school for kids from poor backgrounds.

After watching a dance by children dressed as Aztecs in homemade costumes, the first lady hugged the performers, who chanted her name.

“That was beautiful, everything you did, I loved the singing, I loved the dancing. I love to see you all moving and exercising,” she said. “Everyone here got to see the best of Mexico’s young people.”

After an unannounced stop in earthquake-hit Haiti, Obama arrived in the Mexican capital on Tuesday night and tried to focus her international agenda on youth development and education.

Obama met President Felipe 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.

“Mexico is really a natural first step for me,” Obama said in a White House video recorded on her plane on Tuesday night. “The relationships that our countries have with one another are so deep and broad. So many U.S. citizens trace their roots back to Mexico.”

The first ladies, both lawyers with young families, visited Mexico’s anthropology museum and listened to a youth symphony concert and a choral performance by disabled children.

They had no plans to publicly discuss Mexico’s raging drug war, which is fueled by U.S. demand for illegal narcotics.

BRUTAL DRUG WAR

Calderon has staked his presidency on trying to crush the drug gangs, sending the army to fight heavily armed hitmen in a brutal war that has killed around 22,700 people since the president took office in late 2006.

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.

In her role as first lady, Obama has taken on a relatively low profile, avoiding politically sensitive subjects and preferring to call herself “mom-in-chief” to her two daughters, Sasha and Malia.

But her visit solidifies her husband’s interest in Mexico after he traveled twice to meet with Calderon here since taking office in January 2009.

Obama has pledged to support Calderon in his anti-drug fight and increase the two countries’ already strong commercial ties, worth around $1 billion a day in bilateral trade.

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 Doina Chiacu

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