Monday, March 5, 2012

Felipe Calderón welcomes V.P. Joe Biden

News Analysis -
"The vice president wants to send a clear message that the Obama administration is prepared to work with Mexico's next leader"

Mexico City -- U.S. vice president Joe Biden was received this morning by president Felipe Calderón at Los Pinos, Mexico's White House. Biden arrived in the country last night and was warmly greeted at 11:00 a.m. today by Calderón.

The vice president will meet later with Mexico's three main presidential candidates, in alphabetical order. A national preference poll published last Wednesday (Feb. 29) suggests that PAN (National Action Party) nominee Josefina Vázquez Mota is rapidly gaining ground against front runner Enrique Peña Nieto, who represents the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador remains in distant third place according to that poll. López Obrador's candidacy has remained anemic in all recent surveys, but Vázquez Mota has made steady progress against Peña Nieto, whose election was regarded as inevitable just weeks ago. The PRI candidate said yesterday the only poll he's interested in is the one which will be taken on July 1, when as many as 80 million Mexicans will select a successor to Calderón.

Mexico's formal campaign season doesn't begin until March 30. But all three nominees have been campaigning hard, albeit unofficially, for months. Both Peña Nieto and López Obrador are their parties' standard bearers by default. Vázquez Mota had to endure a three way internal PAN primary on Feb. 5, which she handily won with about 54% of the more than 400,000 votes cast.

For PRD's López Obrador, who was a candidate in Mexico's 2006 presidential contest, this year is an encore performance. He lost that race to Calderón by one half of one percent, the closest such election in Mexico's 202 years of statehood. But López Obrador insists he'll put together a majority despite the depressing numbers. The Mexican media -- and virtually everyone who supports either PRI or PAN -- refers to him as the country's "leftist" option. In a country which historically has shown far less interest in left wing politics than many of its Latin neighbors, and in which the Catholic Church remains a powerful voice of authority on many issues, the appellation is surely not one coveted by most candidates.

Biden and Calderón will discuss several issues of mutual interest, including immigration and national security, according to statements issued last week in both capitals. The latter is a clear reference to the 63 month old drug war in this country, launched by Calderón in December 2006 and often called the National Security Strategy. The same topic will undoubtedly figure prominently in Biden's meetings with the three presidential candidates. There is profound worry in Washington about whether Mexico's next president will stay the course in the anti-drug trafficking offensive. Justice Dept. officials have said that Mexico's powerful cartels pose a substantial threat to the U.S., and last year some Republicans in Congress stepped up efforts to have them declared terrorist organizations. For its part Mexico points out that almost all of the narcotics passing through this country are destined for American consumption, and that at least 80% of the military assault weapons seized from cartel arsenals were manufactured or sold north of the border.

Biden will meet first this afternoon with López Obrador, followed by Peña Nieto and finally Vázquez Mota. In remarks to the press over the weekend the latter two candidates said they'll keep their conversations with the vice president general, fitting the introductory encounter. López Obrador said that he was working on a set of proposals to deliver to Biden, which will reportedly include a plan for economic development in Mexico.

Biden may want to ask López Obrador about his very public commitment to pull Mexican armed forces from the drug fight if he's elected. The U.S. has invested over $1 billion in military equipment and training in the drug war under the 2008 Mérida Initiative, and has promised another half billion. Vázquez Mota has said she'll stick to Calderón's National Action Strategy. Peña Nieto hasn't clarified his position on the army's role in the drug war.

Update: Peña Nieto told Biden during his meeting with the vice president this afternoon that he was committed to the drug war, but "without the same strategy." Just what does that ambiguous statement mean -- and why won't the PRI candidate tell us what he has in mind? Does it imply removal of military forces from the drug war, as Peña Nieto said he would do last November during a trip to Washington? If so, why not just acknowledge it? (

Josefina roars ahead in latest national poll:
House Republicans say drug cartels are terrorists:
López Obrador drug war plan would be a disaster for Mexico:
Now just which candidate was Sen. John McCain referring to?:
"We're staying out of it," says U.S. of Mexico's presidential election:

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