We’ve all seen the headlines. They’re as gruesome and disturbing as any in the world, and they’re all the more disturbing because they’re relatively close to home:

Twenty-two bodies found in Mexico City over a recent weekend. Thirty-five bodies dumped like yesterday’s trash along the side of a busy Veracruz highway. The bodies of 17 musicians and crew members of a band found in an abandoned well near Monterrey.

Mexico’s narco-fueled terror rampage has become so commonplace that the horror stories barely rate as news.

For these reasons and others, the Obama administration needs to make sure that its focus on the Middle East and other trouble spots around the world doesn’t blind it to the mutual opportunities of close neighborly ties. With President Enrique Pena Nieto in the early weeks of his presidency, it’s an opportune time.

Writing in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Shannon K. O’Neil, a Latin American expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, points out that it also is time for this country “to start seeing Mexico as a partner instead of a problem.”

She noted in a recent interview with the Chronicle that Mexico is now the second-largest export destination for U.S. goods, after Canada — and twice as much as China — and that Mexico is both Texas’ and Houston’s biggest trading partner.

More than a billion dollars worth of legal goods cross the U.S.-Mexican border into this country each day. An estimated 6 million U.S. jobs depend on U.S-Mexico trade.

Approximately 40 percent of the products made in Mexico have parts that come from this country.

Mexico still has challenges, certainly, but the vital signs are strong. Whatever Mexico’s future holds, the United States will be affected.

An increasingly prosperous neighbor, a strong and able trading partner and a safe and stable democracy define the Mexico we hope continues to evolve.

– Houston Chronicle, March 15