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Calderon: Building a Free and Safe Mexico

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Mexico is committed to freedom, democracy, a market economy, justice, and respect for the environment.

BY FELIPE CALDERON

The first challenge for any nation that hopes to be a nation in full development, is to have the rule of law, and that the rule of law must be obeyed.

Therefore, our struggle, far beyond the powerful Mexican drug cartels, the most powerful ones at present, our fight is to have a country of freedoms, freedoms that can only be built when the rule of law exists, and when there are governments that are willing to run the risk of enforcing the rule of law.

We have decided that, in a country largely trapped by crime, we want our freedom back. Mexico and other Latin American countries are about to celebrate 200 years of independence and freedom.

And for me, not as President, but as a Mexican that has always believed in the future of our great nation, that freedom is not something that can be sacrificed, and least of all sacrificed due to the cowardice of our government leaders.

Of course it has not been easy. It has been incredibly complicated, but we knew we had to face up to it.

Let me tell you that at the beginning of our Administration, we observed a dramatic change in what has been going on in Latin American countries, especially in Mexico.

Mexico, like other countries, had traditionally been just a transition country to transport drugs to the biggest consumer in the world that unfortunately continues to be the United States.

However, this change meant that large criminal organization –possibly due to the growth of the country’s consumption following NAFTA, which went from two thousand dollars to more than nine thousand dollars per capita, or due to other reasons– criminal organizations sought not only to export (if I am allowed to use economics terms), drugs towards this great nation of the United States, but to also generate a consumer market in our country.

And this criminal activity has stopped being a low profile activity that did not interfere with people, to become an intrusive activity in the lives of citizens, a defiant one; a particularly violent and ruthless one.

From being almost unnoticed due to tactical reasons, it went on to be defiant and open, also due to tactical reasons, since, for these barons, it was about dominating and proving that they were the ones who gave orders and who were the authorities in the major cities or in the poorest towns of the national territory.

And in order to accomplish this, taking over and corrupting officials, they based their efforts in a long, sad and unacceptable tradition of corruption in Mexico; or by intimidating them to gain control of the city squares and territories through violence. 

This obviously took some weak structures of the Mexican society by surprise, at the city, state and Federal levels, and it disturbed the peace and security that Mexicans deserve. (…)

For that reason, from my first day in office, and to keep a promise I made to the Mexican people, we did not think twice about putting all the power of the State into action, including the Federal Police, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, to get the State’s authority back. And for those areas of the country where organized crime had hoped to take control of community life, we were determined to intervene and get security and freedom back to the Mexican people.

We are determined to make this effort work. And the truth is that we have made progress, and knowing that this will be a very long struggle, I can tell you that we are following a strategy and that we are on the right track.

I have never tried to mislead the Mexican people. I told them on the first day in office that this would be a long struggle, that it would take time and resources and that it would cost many human lives, but that it was worth it.

Because neither that time, nor that money or those human lives, with all the pain that they have caused us, can even compare to having a country of 105 million people within its territory, and possibly another 15 million outside, on its knees with its hands tied before the criminals. And that is the way it has been.

Yet, nevertheless, in these three years of government we have noted major advances.

For example: We have hit crime and we have hit it hard. For example, if I talk to you about the number of weapons we have seized, these could probably supply the army of a medium-sized nation in Latin America.

In the last three years, we have seized 60,000 weapons, from semiautomatic pistols to missile launchers. Almost 3,000 grenades.

We have brought to justice almost 70,000 people connected to crime - 70,000. And among them, there have been almost 200 regional leaders from different cartels throughout the country.

The first one, on the third day in December of in my term of office.  The last one yesterday, El Lobo, a lieutenant in the Pacific Cartel, who was caught in Guadalajara.

And if we talk about the drugs we have seized, I can just tell you that the drugs my government has seized would be enough to give 80 doses, 80 doses to each young Mexican man or woman between the ages of 15 and 30 years old.

But, I insist, the issue of drugs has not been the goal, but rather, that of security.

And we have operated on other areas in this struggle.  One that has affected Mexican society is that, due to a situation of imitation and anarchy created due to the vacuum of authority for many years, crimes that have mightily disturbed Mexican society have propagated, such as kidnapping. (…)

However, (…) at the present time, this year we have worked hard on this issue, so much so that, in just one year, we have imprisoned more than 1,000 kidnappers in the country, and we have freed a similar number of victims in Mexico.

And we are determined, absolutely determined to see a day, whether my eyes will see it or not it does not matter, as long as Mexican eyes can see it, Mexico will one day, I hope sooner than later, be a safe country, a true country, where boys and girls, youth, can safely go out in the street and people can go to work or study freely.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

The second challenge we have faced in recent years has obviously been the economic crisis that has affected all our countries.

A year ago, a little more than a year ago, when things started getting worse everywhere, I think that none of us that are here today would have imagined how bad the economy would get.

Right now the 2010 Economic Package is still being discussed and I hope that it gets approved, but last year at this time it was predicted that the Mexican economy would grow more or less between one and two percent in 2009. To make a long story short, the Mexican economy fell in this year’s first quarter at rates of around 10%, the worst drop that the Mexican economy had registered. (…)

If the epicenter of the world crisis was the United States, and given that the Mexican economy, like none other, depends on 80 percent of its exports to this market, you can only imagine how serious those implications would be. (…)

We knew we would not be able to avoid a crisis of this magnitude, but we also knew that we could avoid the effects it would have on the lives of Mexicans.

And we had some parameters, for example, the 1995 crisis, the “Tequila effect.” Incidentally, it’s nothing more than a name, tequila has gained a lot of ground since then. (…)

The economy fell by less, 6 percent in the year in Mexico, and nevertheless, 11 percent of the formal jobs were lost in Social Security, more than one in ten.

What did we do this year to avoid a similar crisis in the job market?

We put all the countercyclical policies we could in place. And for example, we created a Temporary Employment Program where the poorest people could clean highways, set up counterfire operations, cooperate with cleaning archeological areas for study or tourism, and we created half a million jobs in six months, in Temporary Employment.

And since a huge amount of export companies to the United States had to lay off their workers, we agreed that if those companies reached an agreement with their unions so that a worker could earn a third of his salary, we would pay the other third part and the company the other third.  And we were able to avoid that 460,000 workers in the country got laid off.

And (…) since international credit had shrunk throughout the world, and companies had no credit, at least the small and medium sized businesses did not, we put a proactive credit support program in place for the SMBs.

And from September 2008 to September 2009, the government granted, through collateral guarantees with commercial banking, credit to almost 100,000 small and medium-sized businesses in the country; that is to say, we protected, through credit, the livelihood of nearly another 1.5 million Mexicans. 

The result: In 1995, with a minor crisis, formal employment fell by 11 percent; in 2009, with a greater crisis, formal employment dropped 1.6 percent. In other words, instead of one in ten workers, only one in 100 lost their job.

And today, thanks to the effort that the Mexicans are making, we are seeing signs of recovery. For example, in the last four months, that is to say, June, July, August, September, including October, Mexico has created net jobs at Social Security; while the economy of the United States continues registering job losses of almost a half a million Americans per month. In Mexico, only between September and part of October, in three two-week periods, at the Social Security Office, that is to say, paid and registered jobs, Mexico has created in net terms 120,000 new jobs in sectors that had been affected.

Exports are growing at annual rates of over 18 percent yearly in the last two months. And (..) I am convinced that all this effort we made and that we still have to make, since we have to avoid a collapse in the macroeconomic stability of the country, in public finance, all that effort will be compensated with a new period of growth, as Mexicans have been looking and hoping for.

FLU VIRUS

And a third story of what we have gone through in just this year; the appearance of the A/H1N1 virus, the flu virus. There is a huge discussion on whether it started in Mexico or not, or in another area; that is not the issue, it is not an issue of blaming, it is not an issue of shame. It is an issue of pandemic; whether the virus is called Swine Flu H1N1 California 09, because that is the technical name, since that is where it was discovered, I do not want to get into that argument. The issue is that it had a serious impact on Mexico and on the largest city in the world.

One Thursday afternoon, having been very concerned about the report of the number of chronic respiratory illness cases in Mexico hospitals, I had asked the Secretary of Health to research in depth what was happening; that was in mid April.

And the report finally came, not from the United States CDC, but from Canadian laboratories, and the report was that we were dealing with a new virus whose mortality rate was unknown, but it was certain; in other words, we knew that we had had fatal victims in Mexico, people that were suffering respiratory illnesses, whose deaths had no explanation, and that we had to act and we had to act quickly, and that the mortality rate could become, as in the case of the bird flu, up to 70 percent of the cases.

In a city like Mexico City, with 22 million inhabitants, where the epicenter of the problem was, you had to act quickly.

I called all Mexicans. That same night, we were suspending class in all the schools in the metropolitan area of Mexico City.

And as the cases of spreading and deaths grew, during the next week we did not think twice about suspending all school activity in the country, including economic activity as well.

And (…) with that, we were able to stop the virus spread rate and it quickly dropped.

And that was how we also avoided a collapse of the health system, because it would have been impossible to care for all the sick in the country.

We distributed Tamiflu and we were transparent in the information reported worldwide.  I must tell you that there were very important voices in our own government that suggested that I be discreet and avoid sharing the information about the virus.

And it seemed to me, in the first place, impossible, since the casualties were there, and secondly, it would be irresponsible.  And the order I gave was: To share all information, down to the last detail, with the people.

The Secretary of Health had instructions to report every four hours on the evolution of the illness in a press conference.  And when he would ask me: Mr. President, it’s just that we have these deaths and the truth is that we don’t know if they’re from the virus or another illness; I would tell him: Mr. Secretary, keep the people informed. We have these deaths and we do not know if they are from the virus or this illness.

And although it was hard for Mexico, and although it kept tourists away those days, and although we lost production, we were able to earn the trust and credibility of the people. And without using law enforcement, we were able to stop activity in the biggest city in the world.

And we were able to avoid the propagation (of the illness).  And not only that, we shared all the information available in Mexico with world authorities.

Today, to date, it is an unusual case. By order from the Federal Government, we keep close tabs on all the A/H1N1 cases that have been registered by not only sampling, but in the census. And we have also specifically registered the mortality rate, so much so, that we know the rate today is 0.68. In other words, it is a rate similar to that of the seasonal flu.

Today, thanks to how responsible the doctors, nurses and people have been, Mexico is now prepared to face this pandemic.

We are now sure that we have the vaccine for the first season, in the month of November. We have already received the first dose of vaccines and we will be able to face this illness with certainty. (..)

I have gone on long enough about these three stories on crime, economic adversity, and the flu.  I would have to add, possibly, the fact that Mexico had the worst drought that has ever been registered, the second worst in 60 years, due to climate change.

I would have to add some other problems there as well. But as I told the Mexicans: Just one of these adversities, or the fierceness of organized crime, or the flu –the appearance of a virus like this– or the economic crisis that we are going through, or the drought, one of these alone would have been enough to weaken and destroy the institutional environment of a weak country.

A year ago, (…) here in the United States, a publication came out that said that Mexico was, or could be, a Failed State, since its institutional environment was not capable of withstanding significant adversities.

And we not only faced one, but four or five adversities at the same time.  And (…) I can tell you, that not only did Mexico overcome them, but it is stronger than ever.

I end by telling you (…) of the Mexico we aspire to. I believe that part of our problem has also been, not only facing reality, but that sometimes we have not known how to share it either.

A QUESTION OF PERCEPTION

When all is said and done, for example, just talking about the issue of violence, although the fierceness of the Mexican cartels makes a spectacle of this society, as Octavio Paz called it, the article is, truly dramatic and it makes you think that our country is simply a debacle in terms of violence. The truth is that it is also an issue of perception.

For example, the mortality rate in Mexico is 12 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Yes, it’s high, but the perception of this rate is not much when compared to other Latin American countries. It ends up being relatively moderate, since Ecuador’s rate is 17 homicides, in Brazil it is 24 homicides per 100,000. In other words, it is double to what it is in Mexico; in Colombia there are 36 homicides, in Venezuela the rate is 47 and in El Salvador it is 56. Or if you compare it, to take a case in point, it is similar to some US cities. The homicide rate for each 100,000 in Mexico is 12, I stress, in Detroit it is 33, in Baltimore is 37, in San Luis, Missouri it is 47 and in New Orleans it is 64 homicides per 100,000.  And nevertheless the perception makes my country be specifically viewed in a different way. (…)

I want to tell you that, despite adversity, we are working in Mexico for the country we dream of: A free Mexico, committed to the principles that we believe in: freedom, democracy, a market economy, justice, and respect for the environment.

A safe Mexico for our children and because of that, regardless of the personal, family and social risks that are run when the Government does its duty to fulfill the law. We are determined that one day our country will breathe the freedom it deserves.

A fair Mexico, where we can eradicate extreme poverty that almost 20 million Mexicans live in.  That is why, despite the economic adversity and public finances, I am proposing to Congress, to not only cancel, but to increase public spending and focus it on combating extreme poverty through education, health and through transfers aimed at the poorest people.

A Mexico committed to the environment. And even though Mexico is a developing and poor country, Mexico knows how to reverse climatic change and end the threat that is putting humanity at risk, which is global warming. It involves an effort not only from the rich, as countries, but from everyone. It is something we can do in our actions every day, making the world more inhabitable. (…)

And I’m sure that as the years go by, with the character and determination of the Mexican people, Mexico will be that country we have dreamed of for our children. 

Felipe Calderon is the president of Mexico. This column is based on excerpts from his acceptance speech as Leader of the Year at Latin Trade’s 15th annual Bravo Business Awards last month. Translated from Spanish by Latin Business Chronicle. For a video of the complete speech, visit Latin Trade
 

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