Mexico’s new president Felipe Calderon faces enormous challenges. In fact, just getting into the Mexican Congress building to take his inaugural oath was a challenge.
Opposition lawmakers, still smarting over Calderon’s razor-thin victory on July 2nd, had promised to physically prevent Calderon from taking his oath of office in the legislative chamber on December 1st, as required by Mexican law and custom.
This led to a bizarre confrontation on the chamber’s dais, as legislators from both the opposition PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) and Calderon’s PAN (National Action Party) camped out on the platform for 72 hours, until December 1st, inauguration day, when a real donnybrook erupted on the chamber floor.
Nevertheless, Calderon entered the chamber, and amidst catcalls and cheers, took the oath of office. The deed had been done.
Calderon’s predecessor, Vicente Fox, deserves high marks for keeping the economy stable, with no peso crash or runaway inflation. And yet, the economy was a little too stable, as it lacked the dynamic growth that could provide enough jobs for the million Mexicans who enter the work force annually. The new president needs to preserve Fox’s good financial policies while enabling the expansion of more and better-paid jobs. Also, Mexico faces a growing crime wave, which includes drug cartel related violence which has claimed over 2,000 lives this year alone.
So far, the new president has hit the ground running, and seems in control of his agenda, which is quite ambitious; his three priorities being jobs, fighting poverty and fighting crime.
Calderon has enforced an austerity program upon his own administration, with 10% pay cuts for himself and cabinet officials. He plans to fight corruption and improve tax collection (now running at a 40% evasion rate). The new president plans to encourage tourism and other economic development, and concentrate on the 100 poorest municipios (more or less equivalent to U.S. counties) in Mexico.
From the previous administration, Calderon inherited the ongoing strife in Oaxaca, which Fox had failed to deal with for months until he reluctantly sent in the military-style PFP (Federal Preventive Police). Calderon has also shown resolve in facing the situation, by both arresting the principal leader of the radical protesters, and investigating the state police as well.
As part of the Mexican war on drugs, Calderon has already dispatched thousands of soldiers, policemen and sailors on a military offensive against drug traffickers of the state of Michoacan.
Felipe Calderon seems to exhibit better political skills than predecessor Fox, who was a great candidate but incapable or unwilling to do the horse trading required to deal with Mexico’s congress, a rambunctious body with no majority party.
Furthermore, the correlation of forces in the Congress is better for Calderon than it was for Fox. If he plays his cards right, he can form a working majority with the formerly-ruling party, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), which was chastened in the last election but now possesses a strategic kingmaker role between the PAN and the PRD.
How will Calderon deal with emigration, the biggest bugaboo of U.S – Mexican relations? That remains to be seen, and also depends on what the Bush/Reid/Pelosi administration does in 2007.
Predecessor Vicente Fox was absolutely obsessed with the immigration question, making it the centerpiece of his administration, investing time and political capital he could have spent focusing on job creation in Mexico. This backfired on both sides of the border. Mexicans saw his immigration policy as a failure since he never managed to get a migratory accord with Washington. And many Americans were irked by his obnoxious meddling in U.S. immigration policy.
U.S. immigration policy was actually a topic of discussion in the recent Mexican presidential election, and all the major candidates, including Calderon, came out for (U.S.) amnesty for (Mexican) illegals, and increased (Mexican) immigration to the U.S. But in Mexican politics, that comes with the territory. Calderon even joked that if we build a wall, “we (Mexicans) will jump over it anyway.” More recently, Arturo Sarukhan, the administration’s point man for dealing with the U.S., said he plans to lobby for amnesty and a guest worker program.
On the other hand, the Calderon team has announced that it will not make immigration the number #1 issue in the bilateral relationship (as Fox did). And in Calderon’s inaugural speech in the national auditorium, he stated that seeking U.S. investment and reforming the Mexican economy are preferable to emigration.
Let’s hope Calderon follows up on that kind of thinking.
Allan Wall recently completed a tour of duty in Iraq with his National Guard unit and currently resides in Mexico, where he can be contacted at email@example.com.
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