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El Excelsior, Mexico

A New Atmosphere for Biden’s
Second Visit to Mexico

By Mario Melgar

Translated By Sara Hunter

27 November 2012

Edited by Jonathan Douglas

Mexico - El Excelsior - Original Article (Spanish)

The vice president of the United States will be present for the presidential inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto.

Joseph Biden will represent the Obama administration at the inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto. Biden was instrumental in Obama’s re-election due to his charisma and his performance in the vice presidential debate. He slaughtered Paul Ryan, the Republican candidate. His performance was monumental; it changed the perception that in the earlier debate Romney had defeated an unsure and hesitant president. The Republican momentum ended with Ryan’s defeat.

During the debate, when Ryan continued to criticize Obama’s foreign policy concerning the motive for the assassination of the American ambassador in Libya, Biden shot back that Ryan had, in the House of Representatives, voted in favor of reducing the security for diplomats in foreign service, one of the possible causes of the tragedy. When Ryan criticized the proposal to reduce military spending, Biden attacked again, noting that Romney had included the “untouchable" armed forces in the 47 percent of the population that he would not take into account in his campaign for election. To make matters worse, he compared Ryan to the discredited governor Sarah Palin. McCain recently blamed her for his defeat four years ago.

Biden returns to Mexico in a very different atmosphere from his last visit, when besides visiting Calderón in Los Pinos he met with presidential candidates. At that time, Biden assured them that U.S. policy on the matter of drugs was totally opposed to legalization. He referred specifically to a group of former Latin American heads of state, stressing the inclusion of Ernesto Zedillo as one of the drivers of a new debate.

Under the U.S. Constitution (with its curious division of powers) the vice president is the president of the Senate, where he is the tie-breaking vote, but he does not vote or participate in the debate or even speak; [he] only presides. During his visit to Mexico earlier this year, Biden declared that he had spent many hours in the Senate listening to arguments in favor and against legalization. He said that while the legalization of drugs could have benefits like reducing the number of people incarcerated (a serious problem in California), the measure would bring complications for public health (such as increased consumption and the creation of costly bureaucracies to control the distribution of drugs) that would impact the productivity of the country. The costs for public health and for mortality rates made it unthinkable. Still, marijuana had not yet been legalized in Colorado and Washington, nor was Peña Nieto the president of Mexico.

Vice presidents in the United States are shaped by the president. Their formal functions are two: replace the president in his absence and preside over the Senate. Everything else is just [doing] what the president wants and tells him to do. Some constitutional duties given to the president, like being the commander in chief of the armed forces, veto power (if you consider it), enforcing the laws approved by Congress or granting pardons, are not things that can be delegated. In this way the president can confer other duties to the vice president like forming part of an advisory body or sending him to the inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto this weekend. Curiously the vice president is not an employee of the president: his position is proper, and the president cannot fire him as he could his secretaries and other officials in the executive branch.

Biden’s upcoming visit will be formal and solemn, as will be the session when we finally say goodbye to President Calderón. The president is going to be leaving, and is leaving, and will not have left, and each day pulls a silly stunt. There will be no time to discuss the agenda. Something will have been decided during the brief visit to Washington by the president-elect. The truth is that the atmosphere has changed not only because two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the use of marijuana and 17 more states have approved medical use, but because Peña Nieto will surely have an approach to the drug problem diametrically opposed to that of Calderón, whose drug policy was his administration’s most resounding failure.



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