While his boss dukes it out with Bibi Netanyahu, Vice President Joe Biden is being sent to Mexico and Honduras to talk drug wars and to vet the three candidates vying to replace Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Calderon can’t run again because of term limits. The July 1 election will feature Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the socialist beaten by Calderon in 2006; Josefina Vázquez Mota, a member of Calderon’s center-right National Action Party and once his education secretary; and Enrique Peña Nieto, a member of the center-left PRI, which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years before Vicente Fox won the presidency in 2000.
In previewing the vice president’s trip on a conference call for reporters Thursday afternoon, senior officials said that Biden will be meeting with all of the candidates as well as the current Mexican leader.
“While we’re in Mexico, the Vice President will also sit down with each of Mexico’s three major party presidential candidates — in alphabetical order, I might add — to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to respecting Mexico’s democratic process in a totally impartial manner,” said Biden’s National Security Adviser Tony Blinken. “He looks very much forward to hearing from each of the candidates their views on the issues most important in Mexico and to Mexicans, and to the future of the bilateral relationship.”
In Washington a few months ago, Lopez Obrador criticized the Obama administration for putting military aid to Mexico over development aid and not helping immigrants enough. He said the two countries have to “substantially change” their relationship.
Lopez Obrador still insists that he actually beat Calderon in 2006.
“[Biden will] underscore to each that the United States will continuing working with President Calderón and his administration until the final day that they’re in office, and that we look very much forward to working with whomever the Mexican people elect as their next President,” Blinken added.
On Tuesday, Biden will meet with Honduras President Porfirio Lobo, who was elected after the ouster of Manuel Zelaya. The Obama administration stood by the leftist leader in the days after the coup, cutting off aid to the Central American country after it refused to reinstate Zelaya.
“The meeting there provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States’ strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order,” Blinken said.
The officials refused to address a question about Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) recent comment that “at least one candidate” in the Mexican presidential election would throw in the towel against the violent drug cartels that have sent Mexico’s murder rate skyrocketing.
Peña Nieto has said he’ll scale back the military effort against the cartels; Calderon maintains that a military approach has been needed to counter corruption at the local police level. Cartels have been known to bully people into voting for PRI candidates.
“As Tony has made clear, by sitting down with the three presidential — the major party presidential candidates of Mexico to hear their views of the issues facing Mexico today and of the future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship, which, again, is one of our most important relationships in the world, the Vice President wants to send a very clear message that this administration is prepared to work with the next democratically elected leader of Mexico,” said Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Restrepo.
One of the State Department cables dumped by WikiLeaks last year said that Peña Nieto “is often referred to as the ‘next president of Mexico.'”
Calderon’s predecessor, meanwhile, was in Hollywood last night, explaining to TMZ why Mexican Coke — which is made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup — is better than American Coke.