December 7, 2007

President Felipe Calderon: Year One

Marking his first year in office, Mexican President Felipe Calderon delivered a state-of-the-union speech on Saturday, December 1.

Speaking in an optimistic tone, Calderon expressed confidence the political divisions which characterized his highly-challenged election in 2006 had been overcome. “Today, after one year of government and in before a truly different panorama, I am more convinced than ever that Mexico’s problems have solutions, but that they require unity and the solidarity of all,” Calderon said.

In his address, Calderon emphasized economic, education, anti-crime and anti-poverty initiatives. Missing from his speech were recognitions of the special problems faced by Mexican corn farmers, tortilla consumers, battered women, indigenous groups, and Mexico-US border residents.

Calderon failed to make any mention of Mexican migrants in the United States and Canada. Accounting for nearly one of every ten Mexicans, migrants help fuel the Mexican economy with more than $20 billion annually in remittances. The president’s omission of the migration and remittance issues from his speech was even more striking at a moment when immigration is emerging as a key, contentious issue in the 2008 US presidential election, a development certain to affect Mexico-US relations one way or another.

President Calderon lauded the creation of 800,000 jobs, the passage of new social security and tax reforms and the expansion of anti-poverty programs rooted in old Institutional Revolutionary Party governments. He emphasized the landing of $18 billion in foreign investment, an amount thirty percent higher than the previous year’s figure, and pending federal investments to the tune of $5 billion in roads, ports, airports, energy installations, re-gasification facilities, telecommunications, and refineries, all part of the federal government’s 2007-2012 national infrastructure program.

“Despite the stagnation that threatens the economy of the United States, upon which we are dependent and which limits us, our growth of a little more than three percent this year, from December 1 of last year to now, (shows) the confidence in Mexico that permitted the creation of formal employment,” Calderon said. To keep the economy on track, he reiterated an announcement made days earlier in Monterrey to slash electricity rates by 30 percent for an estimated 44,200 enterprises beginning on January 1, 2008.

“We are going to reform and reinforce the dynamic of the internal market,” Calderon vowed. “We are going to promote key sectors including construction, tourism, agriculture, housing, energy, and telecommunications, and we will diversify exports outside the North American market that grew at a rate superior to 25 percent this year.”

The Mexican president devoted considerable time in his speech to detailing the expansion of anti-poverty and health insurance programs initiated by the Fox administration. According to Calderon, the federally-supported Seguro Popular health insurance program now covers 7 million families, one-third more than in 2006. Cal-deron also cited the 70 and Older Program that gives the elderly, marginalized poor about fifty dollars per month.

The new program mimics one pioneered by former Mexico City Mayor and Calderon nemesis Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The Mexican federal government will spend about $100 billion on health, education and public services in 2008, Calderon added.

Completing a year in office dramatized by big drug seizures and the extradition of some leading drug traffickers to the United States, Calderon hailed the detention of 15,000 people linked to organized crime, including 20 regional drug cartel chiefs. “With each drug confiscation, with each criminal behind bars, with each zone we recover from organized crime, we drive away our children from addictions, from violence and from delinquency,” Calderon declared.

Noticeably, Calderon did not directly refer to the central role of the Mexican Armed Forces in the anti-drug campaign. Indeed, President Calderon’s second year in office began just as his first did- with the deployment of the army. Last year, shortly after taking office, he sent troops to Baja California and Michoacan. On the eve of his presidential speech this year, Calderon authorized the dispatch of army special forces to the northern border city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, where the Gulf drug cartel has particular sway. In recent days, the region has been struck with new outbreaks of suspected narco-violence, including the November 29 murder of former Rio Bravo Mayor Juan Antonio Guajardo and five companions.

Briefly mentioning the recent natural disasters in Tabasco and Chiapas, Calderon’s speech treaded lightly on the environment. In terms of climate change, Calderon stressed the addition of new land into natural protected areas, as well as PROARBOL, a program he said has achieved the planting of 217 million trees. Calderon boasted that PROARBOL’S accomplishments account for one-fourth of the United Nations’ global tree replanting goal. However, Mexico’s chief executive did not speak about mass transportation or other strategies that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On the thorny issue of human rights, Calderon was silent. No comments were made by the president about ongoing political and social conflicts in Chiapas and Oaxaca states. Weeks before his speech, the European Parliament passed a resolution that put the unresolved femicides of Ciudad Juarez and other places in Mexico squarely back on the international agenda. As a presidential candidate, Calderon pledged justice for the murdered women of Ciudad Juarez. It was a campaign promise many victims’ relatives say is far from fulfilled.

Even as Calderon was speaking, new human rights crises were brewing. A violent eviction by the Federal Preventive Police of protesting students who had occupied a highway toll booth near Acapulco November 30 left one student gravely injured and 56 others detained. Three reporters from La Jornada and El Sur newspapers were allegedly roughed up by police in the incident.

Two days before the president’s speech, the Mexican Supreme Court rendered a decision that many human rights advocates contend will go down in infamy. By a slim majority, court justices ruled no evidence existed to investigate Puebla Governor Mario Marin and other members of his administration for violating the rights of Cancun journalist Lydia Cacho, who was irregularly detained and threatened with rape in 2005 after she published a book exposing an international pedophile ring. The court also declined to investigate Cacho’s well-documented expose of the ring, which allegedly included prominent businessmen and officials.

Stunned by the turn in her case, Cacho found herself at the huge Guadalajara International Book Fair as the Supreme Court’s decision was steadily condemned in the Mexican press. Surrounded by thousands of people from across Latin America and the world, Cacho vowed to take her case to the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights and “two important European organisms.”

In Washington, meanwhile, human rights are emerging as an issue in the Bush administration’s Plan Mexico anti-drug legislation under consideration by the US Congress.

As his first year in office closed, President Calderon maintained high levels of popularity, according to a poll conducted by the Mexico City newspaper Reforma and disseminated in the electronic media. The poll reported that 64 percent of Mexicans surveyed approved of the president’s record, while 23 percent disapproved. An additional 13 percent said they did not know how to respond. Paradoxically, Calderon’s purported popularity has done little for his conservative National Action Party, which fared badly in state and local elections across Mexico this year.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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