"The past year has been a different year," said President Felipe Calderón during his third state of the nation address Wednesday.
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Different must be a euphemism for horrible. This was bound to be a difficult year to summarize for Mexico's beleaguered President. In the past year he has been battered with several challenges: the world economic recession, the influenza outbreak, diminishing oil resources, the worst drought the country has seen in years, escalating drug violence, topped by the world's belief that Mexico is ungovernable.
Surrounded by heavy security, Calderon delivered the annual address at the Palacio Nacional, rather than risk the jeering of an aggressive opposition at Congress, where the address was traditionally held. Calderon´s past addresses became almost undeliverable because of the heckling from opposition lawmakers after the disputed 2006 election.
In contrast, Wednesday´s beautifully choreographed address was all smiles and applause, far away from the heckles of opposition congressmen. His "informe" as the annual round-up of government activities is called, marked the crucial midway point in the conservative, pro-U.S. president's six-year term. Calderon was eager to point out that despite the year's "historic challenges," Mexico has been able to step up to the plate.
Though there is still a lot to be done, Calderon said, he was quick to point out his achievements. Chief among these is the centerpiece of his administration, the war on drugs, a strategy he has been both admired and criticized for. Calderon spoke of the importance of re-establishing the rule of law in parts of Mexico most affected by organized crime, and was emphatic about this not just being about fighting the drug cartels, but about giving Mexican citizens more security.
As he spoke about how criminals have diversified their activities and targeted the sale of drugs to Mexico´s youth, two large screens behind him showed video of the Mexican army seizing weapons and barging into narco buildings. To illustrate the impact of his work, Calderon said the number of narcotics seized by his administration would be equivalent to giving more than 80 doses of drugs to every young Mexican between the ages of 15 and 30.
The numbers Calderon quoted are astonishing – his government has seized 50,000 weapons, 22,000 vehicles and arrested 80,000 suspects linked with organized crime. During his administration officials have also arrested 1,400 kidnappers and liberated more than 1,000 kidnap victims "thanks to the bravery of our armed forces" he said.
But at what price? Calderon has tripled the budget spent on public security at the detriment of education and poverty eradication. As Calderon expounded on his victories, El Universal´s daily tally of crime-related deaths was at 4,716 a figure likely to rival last year´s all time record of more than 6,000 deaths.
Despite the huge risks Calderon has taken since taking office, a poll published by the newspaper Reforma on Tuesday, found that Calderon´s approval rating is at 68 percent, up six points from last year.
To conclude, Calderon proposed Mexico take on "profound changes and break the inertia." To make this happen, Calderon proposed a 10-point plan including improving the conditions of 1 in 5 Mexicans who live in extreme poverty, national health coverage for all, improving education, and huge reforms in the energy and telecommunications industries.
Given the challenges Calderon has faced, he seemed upbeat and indefatigable, and determined to root out corruption at all levels of government and lead Mexico into a better, brighter future. With his conservative national action party (PAN) now a minority in Congress, and with the economy shrinking up to 7 percent this year, the task he has set himself seems almost impossible.