Mexico pres seeks to cement legacy in last address
As he nears the end of his six-year term, Mexican President Felipe Calderon leaves his country with a better-armored economy - and also more armored cars.
Calderon delivered his final state-of-the-nation speech on Monday, trying to cement his legacy as the president who stabilized the economy and took on the country's entrenched organized crime groups, putting Mexico on the road to rule of law.
He boasted of expanding and cleaning up the federal police, putting nearly $160 billion in international reserves and creating more than 2 million jobs, twice the number during the term of his predecessor, Vicente Fox.
"It's been our generation's job to assume the costs and risks of making urgent changes in politics and security," he said in the speech at the National Palace. "The reform has begun to bear fruit, but real results will only be seen in the future."
Still, the short-term verdict on the Calderon administration is decidedly mixed, starting with the fact that violence-weary voters in the July national elections were so weary of his tenure that they kicked his party out of the presidency and brought back the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
"Mexico is a long way from having strong rule of law still, and a solid economic base has not necessarily led to the kind of jobs that people hope to have," added Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "It's a well-managed economy but it's not a dynamic economy. And that's the legacy."
The sale of armored vehicles in Mexico has at least doubled since Calderon took office and the homicide rate has soared, with decapitations and mass slayings so common they often no longer make the front pages of national newspapers - and with local papers often too intimidated to cover them at all.
Government statistics show 21,500 homicides in the first half of 2012, compared to about 25,000 for the entire year of 2007, Calderon's first full year in office.
No one knows if drug slayings have tapered in the last few months, as his administration claims, because the government stopped providing the official statistics a year ago. Public corruption persists and the economy for everyday Mexicans is sluggish.
Mexico's president is limited to one six-year term and Calderon's will end Dec. 1, when President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto takes office in what was once considered Calderon's worst nightmare, handing the country back to the party that was kicked out of power in 2000 after years of rule, often by coercion and corruption.
Calderon has said he learned to fight the PRI at the knee of his father, a founder of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, and he openly criticized the rival party before the election for its history of suppressing dissent. Other members of the PAN openly accused the PRI of making pacts with drug traffickers.
Calderon's criticisms have been more muted since Pena Nieto's victory, and on Monday he congratulated the president-elect and urged all Mexicans to unite behind him.
"Above all differences, it is essential that we support him," he said.
Calderon acknowledged during the speech that mistakes have been made in his government's fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, but he said the effort helped to prevent criminals from taking control of the country.
He defended his security strategy that largely has relied on unprecedented deployment of troops across the country.
In terms of security, his report said Mexico has made its largest security investment in its history, allowing the federal police force to be purged of bad officers. He boasted of reformed laws to better coordinate security operations and noted that federal forces have captured or killed 22 of the country's 37 most-wanted drug traffickers.
Calderon praised the transformation of the federal police, which he said has grown from 6,500 officers to 37,000 during his term, including 8,600 college graduates - a reform forced by the repeated failure of similar overhauls of earlier police agencies.
The federal Public Safety Department, which oversees federal police officers, and the Attorney General's Office have vetted 100 percent of their agents with background checks, he added.
But the reputation of the federal police also has been battered. Two weeks ago, federal police ambushed a U.S. Embassy vehicle, injuring two CIA agents working with a Mexican Navy captain. The federal agents said they were investigating a kidnapping when the opened fire on the armored SUV.
In June, two federal police officers fatally shot three colleagues at Mexico City's airport. Authorities said the shooters were part of a trafficking ring that flew in cocaine from Peru. Mexico announced this month that it was replacing 348 federal police assigned to security details at the airport in an effort to quash drug trafficking through the terminal.
Last year, a businessman from Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, accused a group of 10 federal police officers of beating him, torturing him and demanding money. He was stabbed to death a day before he was to attend a judicial hearing on his accusations against the officers.
Just last week, 10 more federal police were arrested for trying to extort a businesswoman in Morelos state south of Mexico City, an incident she captured on tape.
"There have been many problems with restructuring the federal police because they haven't eradicated corruption," said Raul Benitez, an expert on security at Mexico's National Autonomous University. "The adaption of the armed forces to fighting drug trafficking has been slow and difficult, and they haven't been able to resolve the human right violations."
Local and state police departments have only vetted 45 percent of their officers through July, with evaluations pending for more than 239,000 officers, Calderon's report notes.
Thousands of officers, including entire forces at times, have been fired, detained or placed under investigation for allegedly aiding drug gangs.
Meanwhile, prosecutions of major, highly publicized crimes are still pending, including that of a casino attack a year ago in the northern city of Monterrey that killed 52 people, mostly innocent gamblers, and an attack that killed a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent, who was ambushed by an alleged groups of Zetas also last year.
Under Calderon, the Attorney General's Office has made high-profile arrests for drug-trafficking, public corruption and illegal arms possession, only later to release the accused for lack of evidence.
Military generals and court officials have been accused in recent months of aiding both the Sinaloa and Beltran Leyva cartels.
Calderon sharply escalated an armed offensive against drug traffickers when he took office in December 2006 and made the battle his top priority. More than 47,000 people had been killed in drug violence since then and through September 2011, the last time the government released official figures.
The government says it has weakened criminal organizations by confiscating $14.5 billion in assets, including $1 billion in cash from drug gangs.
Authorities have confiscated more than 114 metric tons of cocaine, 11,000 metric tons of marijuana and 75 metric tons of methamphetamines since 2006. Authorities also seized nearly 154,000 weapons, the report said.
Calderon's report said the economy is "in a phase of growth" thanks to responsible public finances.
He also said foreign direct investment totaled $126 billion during his administration.
"This reflects the growing dynamism and competitiveness of our economy," the report said.