Mexico holds its presidential election on Sunday, and no matter which of the three major party candidates wins – and unfortunately polls suggest it will not be the candidate for incumbent President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) – it is a turning point for that country, one made possible by Mr. Calderon’s administration.
Brazil has often overshadowed Mexico in the past decade, but Mexico’s economy grew 4.6 per cent in the first quarter, and the country is now predicted to lead Latin America in growth. The World Bank rates Mexico a much better country to do business in and, unlike Brazil, Mexico is not dependent on commodity prices, but on a powerful and growing export manufacturing sector.
Mexico has also paid a dear, but necessary price to assert the rule of law. When Mr. Calderon assumed the presidency six years ago, he could have opted to look the other way as the drug cartels grew in power, achieving a veneer of calm even as the corrupting influence of the gangsters corroded Mexico’s economy and institutions.
Instead, he used the military to confront head-on the brutal, well-financed and well-armed cartels before they further infiltrated Mexican society. There was always great risk, and the cost has been enormous, both in terms of the many thousands dead, and to Mexico’s global reputation. Yet the country is not today what it would have become without the President’s courage, namely a narco-state.
What is more, Mexico may have weathered the worst of it. A number of drug kingpins have been killed or captured. Hundreds of the gangsters have been deported for prosecution in the United States. Violence is still alarming, but drug-related murders fell by 12 per cent during the first five months of 2012. Mexico will eventually win back its security, thanks to Mr. Calderon.
Tellingly, Mexicans have been steadfast in their support of Mr. Calderon’s policy. According to a Pew Global Attitudes Project survey released last week, 80 per cent of Mexicans support Mr. Calderon’s deployment of the military against the drug cartels, and when asked which political party in Mexico is best equipped to deal with organized crime and drug traffickers, Mr. Calderon’s conservative PAN received the highest level of support.
This endorsement has extended to the President himself. Mr. Calderon, who is prohibited by Mexico’s constitution from seeking another term, enjoys a higher level of support (58 per cent) than any of the candidates to succeed him.
There have been disappointments. Reforms to the police and judiciary have not come quickly enough, in large measure due to congressional opposition, and that same Pew study found 74 per cent say human-rights violations by the military and police are a very big problem. Mexico remains in the thrall of structures, including cumbersome state/private monopolies, left by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which used massive electoral fraud to extend its rule over seven decades before it was defeated in the 2000 election.
It is concerning that the largely unreconstructed PRI machine has retained many state governorships, plurality control of the congress since 2009, and that the party’s presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, is favoured by polls to win Sunday’s election and defeat PAN’s Josefina Vazquez Mota.
Mr. Pena Nieto has campaigned in support of many of the reforms and policies Mr. Calderon has long advocated, which is hopeful. Still, Ms. Vazquez Mota is the safer candidate, and PAN is the better party. Regardless of who wins, Mr. Calderon has laid the foundation for Mexico’s future. Mexico has never been freer politically, or its economy better primed. And unless there is a failure of resolve by his successors, the country will win its security too.