Mexican president seeks to cement legacy in last address
Mexico´s President Felipe Calderon delivers a speech during the presentation of a new bill to protect victims of violence in Mexico City, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP / Christian Palma)
Published Monday, September 3, 2012 12:42PM EDT
MEXICO CITY -- As he nears the end of this six-year term, Mexican President Felipe Calderon leaves his country with an economy better armored against global problems, as well as more armored cars on the streets.
Calderon delivered his final state-of-the-nation speech on Monday, trying to cement his legacy as the president who stabilized the economy and took on the country's entrenched organized crime groups, putting Mexico on the road to rule of law.
But the short-term verdict on the Calderon administration is decidedly mixed, starting with the fact that voters in the July national elections were so weary of his tenure that they kicked his party out of the presidency and brought back the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
No one knows if drug violence has tapered in the last few months, as his administration claims, because the government stopped providing the officials statistics a year ago. Public corruption persists and the economy for everyday Mexicans is sluggish.
The sale of armored vehicles in Mexico has at least doubled since Calderon took office and the homicide rate has soared, with decapitations and mass slayings so common they often no longer make the front pages of national newspapers - and with local papers often too intimidated to cover them at all.
"Mexico is a long way from having strong rule of law still, and a solid economic base has not necessarily led to the kind of jobs that people hope to have," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "It's a well-managed economy but it's not a dynamic economy. And that's the legacy."
Mexico's president is limited to one six-year term and Calderon's will end Dec. 1, when President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto takes office in what was once considered Calderon's worst nightmare, handing the country back to the party that was kicked out of power in 2000 after years of rule, often by coercion and corruption.
Calderon has said he learned to fight the PRI at the knee of his father, a founder of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, and he openly criticized the rival party before the election for its history of suppressing dissent. Other members of the PAN openly accused the PRI of making pacts with drug traffickers.
Calderon's criticisms have been more muted since Pena Nieto's victory, officially declared by the country's electoral tribunal last week, a change in tone that many say is due his negotiations with the incoming administration to help bolster his legacy.
"He talks about a change in paradigm, which is true compared to the previous paradigm under the PRI of tolerating criminals, but his paradigm of combatting them has not been 100 percent successful and caused a negative effect on society in terms of violence and situations of terror in certain border cities," said Raul Benitez, a Mexico security expert with .
The president's annual written report, thousands of pages of statistics on the state of everything from highways to foreign affairs, was delivered to Congress on Saturday, as the law requires.
The report said Mexico has made the largest security investment in its history under Calderon, allowing the federal police force to be purged of bad officers. He boasted of reformed laws to better coordinate security operations and noted that federal forces have captured or killed 22 of the country's 37 most-wanted drug traffickers.
Calderon touted the transformation of the federal police, which he said has grown from 6,500 officers to 37,000 during his term, including 8,600 college graduates - a reform forced by the repeated failure of similar overhauls of earlier police agencies.
The federal Public Safety Department, which oversees federal police officers, and the Attorney General's Office have vetted 100 percent of their agents with background checks, he added.
The whole effort "has made it possible to build the foundation of a true and lasting security," he said.
But the reputation of the federal police also has been battered. Two weeks ago, federal police ambushed a U.S. Embassy vehicle, injuring two CIA agents working with a Mexican Navy captain. The federal agents said they were investigating a kidnapping when the opened fire on the armored SUV.
In June, two federal police officers fatally shot three colleagues at Mexico City's airport. Authorities said the shooters were part of a trafficking ring that flew in cocaine from Peru. Mexico announced this month that it was replacing 348 federal police assigned to security details at the airport in an effort to quash drug trafficking through the terminal.
Last year, a businessman from Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, accused a group of 10 federal police officers of beating him, torturing him and demanding money. He was stabbed to death a day before he was to attend a judicial hearing on his accusations against the officers.
Just last week, 10 more federal police were arrested for trying to extort a businesswoman in Morelos state south of Mexico City, an incident she captured on tape.
"There have been many problems with restructuring the federal police because they haven't eradicated corruption," Benitez said. "The adaption of the armed forces to fighting drug trafficking has been slow and difficult, and they haven't been able to resolve the human right violations."
Local and state police departments have only vetted 45 percent of their officers through July, with evaluations pending for more than 239,000 officers, Calderon's report notes.
Thousands of officers, including entire forces at times, have been fired, detained or placed under investigation for allegedly aiding drug gangs.
Meanwhile, prosecutions of major, highly publicized crimes are still pending, including that of a casino attack a year ago in the northern city of Monterrey that killed 52 people, mostly innocent gamblers, and an attack that killed a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent, who was ambushed by an alleged groups of Zetas also last year.
Under Calderon, the Attorney General's Office has made high-profile arrests for drug-trafficking, public corruption and illegal arms possession, only later to release the accused for lack of evidence.
Military generals and court officials have been accused in recent months of aiding both the Sinaloa and Beltran Leyva cartels.
Calderon sharply escalated an armed offensive against drug traffickers when he took office in December 2006 and made the battle his top priority. More than 47,000 people had been killed in drug violence since then and through September 2011, the last time the government released official figures.
The government says it has weakened criminal organizations by confiscating $14.5 billion in assets, including $1 billion in cash from drug gangs.
Authorities have confiscated more than 114 metric tons of cocaine, 11,000 metric tons of marijuana and 75 metric tons of methamphetamines since 2006. Authorities also seized nearly 154,000 weapons, the report said.
Calderon's report said the economy is "in a phase of growth" thanks to responsible public finances.
He also said foreign direct investment totaled $126 billion during his administration.
"This reflects the growing dynamism and competitiveness of our economy," the report said.