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Council of the Americas, December 18, 2007

Felipe's First Year
Carin Zissis
December 18, 2007

President Calderón celebrates his first year in office. (AP Images)

Nearly a year and a half after a controversial, narrow election victory sparked protests challenging his right to take power, Felipe Calderón finds himself on firm ground as Mexico’s president. By the time his first year in office ended in early December,  Calderón made good on promises to take a strong position against drug cartels, ushered reform through a previously deadlocked Congress, oversaw a surge in foreign investment in Mexico, and was celebrated for how his administration dealt with a catastrophic flood. 

His first anniversary as president was marked with an approval rating of 64 percent, a figure that outpaced his predecessor’s at the same point in office. “The story of Felipe Calderon is the story of a leader who has been underestimated time and time again,” comments Latin Business Chronicle in an article naming him “Leader of the Year.” He's even been recognized for taking positive steps on environmental policy, as Mexico ranked fourth among countries worldwide on the Climate-Change Performance Index, largely to the credit of his leadership.

Yet the Financial Times cautions that the year ahead for Calderón may not end up as rosy as the past one, noting that much of the reason he was able to consolidate power and put a contentious election behind him was through his ability to drum up support for a crackdown on drug cartels. Violence stemming from organized crime, as demonstrated by recent high-profile killings of Mexican musicians, has caused growing concern. The Committee to Protect Journalists describes Mexico as one of the most dangerous places for reporters in Latin America as a result of drug-related violence.

Calderón’s attack on the drug trade has produced tangible results, as a new AS/COA hemispheric update reports. Since Calderón took office and his government dispatched an anti-drug force of 25,000, soldiers and police have arrested approximately 13,300 people with drug smuggling links. Mexico extradited some 90 people—including a former governor— connected to drug cartels and made several busts, including one of a 23-ton cocaine shipment. Still, in 2007, drug-related murders hit an all-time high. as cartels stepped up reprisals. Calderón has shown signs he will continue the fight, prenning a security pact with U.S. President George Bush in October. Known as the Merida Initiative, the agreement, if approved, would involve a $1.4 billion aid package to support U.S.-Mexico drug enforcement efforts.

While Mexico’s drug-related violence and the 2007 crackdown have garnered widespread media attention, Calderón earned support for other initiatives. His administration has demonstrated the ability to push reforms through Congress, including an overhaul of pensions and the tax code. A judicial reform package, which includes a provision guaranteeing presumption of innocence in trials, could meet approval in February 2008.

Whether Calderón will experience continued success next year remains less clear. Even as analysts say his administration has helped reduce inflation and increase financial transparency,  some wonder if the Mexican economy will catch a cold from the U.S. subprime problems, particularly given Mexico’s dependence on exports to its neighbor. Yet, as the Economist notes, Mexico may be better positioned to handle a U.S. slowdown than in the past due to factors such as a rise in consumer spending, increased foreign investment, and a burgeoning housing construction market. Moreover, an economic downturn in Mexico could spur a breakup of the monopoly held by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) on Mexican oil production—a move which has the support of Calderón's political party. The country’s Senate has already suggested a plan allowing private companies to invest in oil pipelines and refineries as a means to counteract Pemex’s failure to meet production needs.

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