Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Felipe Calderón

Highs: Calderón, one of Washigton's most important allies in Latin America, got to address the U.S. Congress in May and quite rightly used the occasion to lay out America's sizeable share of the blame — especially its incorrigible drug use and assault weapons sales — for Mexico's bloody war against narco-cartels. His bold campaign did enjoy some successes in 2010, especially the capture of a handful of top drug lords, including Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez and Arturo Gallegos, who has confessed to ordering many of the slayings that have terrorized Juarez, the Mexican border city worst hit by the exploding drug violence. Even more important, Calderón kept pushing judicial reform, the only real long-term solution to Mexico's lawlessness. Calderón's efforts to increase social spending, and thereby help youths opt for lives away from the cartels, got a boost as Mexico's economy began growing again after experiencing contraction of almost 7% in 2009 due to the U.S. and global recession. And he finished the year hosting a climate change summit in Cancún, which produced a progressive, if less than groundbreaking, agreement between developed and developing nations on means of fighting global warming.

Lows: But even Calderón's Cancún summit was drowned out by the gunfire of Mexico's ever-worsening drug war, which was deadlier than ever in 2010. The year saw more than 10,000 narco-related murders, a record, including a growing number of innocent civilians and at least six American victims, bringing the toll since Calderón took office in December 2006 to 30,000. It also raised criticism of his military strategy to defeat the cartels, and of Mexico's nagging inability to clean up its ultra-corrupt police forces, doubts that are dulling U.S. enthusiasm for a $1.5 billion anti-drug aid package for its NAFTA partner. Those bad reviews were even reflected in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, memos that portray Calderón's anti-narco offensive and the Mexican agencies carrying it out as dysfunctional; and according to one apparently sent by the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, leaving Calderón himself seeming "down" in meetings. On top of the drug-war setbacks, Calderón also saw his conservative National Action Party (PAN) suffer further election losses to a resurgent Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — the dictatorial power the PAN overthrew a decade ago — which won nine of 12 governor races (after doubling its number of seats in Congress last year). The Mexican President, who railed at draconian new anti-immigration laws in U.S. states like Arizona, also saw no movement in Washington on immigration reform — and, with the Republican resurgence in the U.S., none is likely for a long time.

Tim Padgett