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Will outgoing President Calderón be remembered for more than Mexico's violence? (+video)

Calderón's legacy will likely include Mexico's heavy drug war death toll. But he made positive strides on the economic front with average annual inflation at historic lows.

By Staff Writer / November 30, 2012

As president Felipe Calderón will likely be remembered for Mexico's violence, but he made positive strides on the economic front with average annual inflation at historic lows.

Gregory Bull/AP/File

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Mexico City

The number 60,000 will probably stick with him for the rest of his life – that's the number of drug-related homicides tallied during Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s six-year administration.

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He’d probably rather be associated with the number 140, or 20,000: The former is the number of universities he built in six years; the latter the kilometers of highways constructed in the same time period.

President Calderón, of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), made fighting drug cartels the cornerstone of his administration – a calculation he made clear by donning army fatigues and telling the nation he meant business in January 2007, just a month after taking office. While Mexicans largely hailed this courageous move to send thousands of military personnel to root out organized crime from urban pockets and tiny pueblos alike, they quickly wearied from the unthinkable slaughter and its impact on society.

If Mexico has been in the news during Calderón’s term in office, far more often than not it’s because of beheadings, arson, mass graves, and body dumps. He has spent six years forging forward with his military-led tactic, trying to show that it’s not a failed effort, and convince citizens that he’s done plenty of other good things for Mexico in the meantime.

The chances of the world remembering Calderón for anything other than this bloody time in Mexico’s history has, for most of his administration, seemed slim. Death tolls have gone up: by 60 percent, 70 percent, and one year even by 110 percent, at the same time that the global financial crisis of 2008 plunged millions more into poverty.     

But lately the winds seem to be shifting, as Calderón gets ready to hand the presidency to Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Calderón’s latest approval rating measured by the firm Buendía & Laredo, at 64 percent, is not among the highest in Mexico or Latin America for outgoing presidents. But it’s far ahead of the low 50s he was garnering in previous polls. Hopeful headlines about Mexico are emerging: The Financial Times asked in August “Is Mexico the new Brazil?” The Economist’s special section on Mexico this month is just as optimistic. Ask any economist and they all agree that Mexico, at the macroeconomic level, has done it all right, a message Calderón is furiously trying to communicate as he steps down.

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