Leader of the Year: Felipe Calderón Hinojosa – Chief Executive for a Changing Nation

President of Mexico and BRAVO Leader of the Year

Illustration by Kent Barton

Steeped in the traditions of Mexico’s conservative political forces, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa was a youthful stalwart of the National Action Party that his father Luis Calderón co-founded. The 47-year-old Calderón, who was born in Morelia, Michoacán, fought against the odds to reach the top. He became chairman of the PAN, as the party is known, when he was only 33 and after serving as a lawmaker and energy minister, came from behind to win both the party nomination and the 2006 presidential contest. Calderón has a law degree from the prestigious Escuela Libre de Derecho and later received a master’s degree in economics from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and master’s of public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Calderón was inaugurated on December 1, 2006. He and his wife Margarita Zavala, who served as a PAN legislator, have three children, a personal experience he describes as his “most gratifying.” The Mexican president answered questions posed by Latin Trade Editorial Director Jane Bussey.

Bravo 2009 Leader of the Year Felipe Calderon

What have been the most important achievements of your government so far?

 Since the beginning of my government, we have been focused on transforming Mexico to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We have made it our goal to break down the barriers that hamper development and to make the changes that we Mexicans need for a better life.

We put into practice our integrated strategy, “Live Better.” In three years, we have tripled the budget for the Seguro Popular, (People’s Insurance), which now provides coverage for 10 million Mexican families who previously did not have access to health services.

The Opportunities Program gives cash directly to the poorest families, on the condition that their children attend school and receive healthcare. This program benefits almost 25 million Mexicans and we want to expand it to include as many as 33 million.

Another one of the main demands is security. We are doing something that has not been done for many years. We have declared war on organized crime and made some significant progress: we have taken some 50,000 guns off the streets and confiscated the equivalent of 80 doses of illegal drugs for each young Mexican between the ages of 15 and 30. We have arrested numerous ringleaders of organized crime, several of whom have been extradited to the United States.
On the economy, we have initiated reforms that have been postponed for decades. One example is the Public Service Pension Reform, which prevented the bankruptcy of public finances. This was backed up by tax reforms. Along similar lines, the Mexican oil reform increased the capacity for operations and production. We are going to build a new refinery for the first time in 30 years.

From day one, my government has created favorable conditions for investment. I am convinced that this is the best path toward growth and job creation.

On the environment, we have put in place an ambitious agenda to prevent climate change and we have proposed to the creation of a Green Fund to the international community. For the first time in recent history, we have reforested and restored more acres of forest than are normally lost each year.

What have been the most significant challenges for you and your government?

Of course, the most important challenge has been tackling organized crime and reversing the impunity that reigned in some areas of the country. Aside from this, over the last year we have faced the most serious economic crisis since 1929; the outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu, an increase in violence among organized crime groups and the most severe drop in oil production in many years.

What will be the next steps taken by Mexico to bolster your proposal of working towards the commercial and economic integration of Latin America?

 We need to improve the rules of global finances and encourage free trade. It is very important for developing countries to actively participate in setting up the new international financial order. Therefore, Latin American integration plays a fundamental role in making the Doha Development Round a reality. Restrictive measures that distort trade have to be avoided and multilateral institutions, specifically the Inter-American Development Bank, need to be recapitalized in order to channel credit toward emerging economies.

How do you view the prospect of strengthening ties between Mexico and the United States?

As I told President Obama, Mexico today is a neighbor, friend, partner, and ally of the United States, and we must continue to be. We are connected to the past by our historical links and in the present because we share challenges and opportunities. We also share a future view of a more developed and prosperous North American region with a more competitive and integrated economy.

What have been the most significant events in your life? Without a doubt, the most important moment in my life was when I became president of Mexico after the most closely fought elections in its history and after winning each stage despite all the opinion polls, from my party’s internal selections to the election itself. I have a deep vocation and conviction that humans can accomplish many things in the service of others.

Cover illustration by Kent Barton.

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About the Author: Jane Bussey is editorial director of the Latin Trade Group and the BRAVO Business Awards.

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