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Felipe Calderón marks four years of reform efforts stymied by Mexico drug war

The tenure of President Felipe Calderón, who is preparing to give his fourth state of the union address, has been marked by the brutal Mexico drug war and political infighting that's stymied reform.

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He has revamped public security, putting federal forces under a unified command, and is working to retrain and professionalize the notoriously corrupt cops. Just days before his state of the union address, about 10 percent of the federal police force was fired.

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Both efforts have been criticized for being slow to implement and flawed in design.

"But you cannot reverse a culture of impunity overnight, or even in a sexenio [a six-year presidential term]," says Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a Mexico expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "You could credit the Calderón administration for positioning Mexico on [a more modern] course."

Watered-down reform

But his other reform packages have withered on the vine.

Take energy reform, which passed in 2008 with high hopes that Mexico could begin to reverse the dramatic decline in oil production that it faces.

Many say that without private participation in the sector, the state-owned company cannot reverse its fortunes. But the topic has been a political liability for anyone who broaches it and that was true for Calderón as well.

Calderón also promised to fight the oligarchies that hurt Mexico's economic competitiveness, but so far there has been little movement. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum's 2009 Global Competitiveness Report, Mexico is ranked No. 60, down five spots from the 2005-06 report. A new report comes out in September.

Unemployment, at between 5 and 6 percent, has grown, as has the informal economy, but Mr. Buendia says that Mexicans do not necessarily blame the president. The country fared better after this global recession – contracting 6.5 percent in 2009 – than it did during other economic crises.

Politics intrudes

Buendia says that while labor reform, for example, could improve the situation, many citizens blame other politicians as much as they blame the president.

The fact that Calderón has faced a polarized congress from the beginning – and does now more than ever – has meant that most changes have amounted to little.

"I think what has kept Mexico back is the political polarization of the Mexican elite," Buendia says.

Calderón bears some responsibility, too. He has been criticized for choosing loyalty over proven track records in naming – and renaming – the members of his cabinet.

"I think mostly he failed to have a team of competent and skilled individuals to address the immediate and pending reforms of the country," says Luis Rubio, head of the Center of Research for Development, a think tank in Mexico City.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

Why It Matters: The United States has a large stake in the success of Mexican President Felipe Calderón's war on the drug cartels, which has touched off waves of alarming violence. Less obvious is the stake the US has in the success of his slate of social reforms, which now have been subsumed.