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.
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'The war on drugs'
A prime example of an important step forward, if only on paper, not in practice, is on justice reform. Calderón was able to get the Congress to agree to revamp one of the world’s most dysfunctional systems. By many reputable counts, the impunity rate in Mexico stands at 98 percent. However, the reforms have virtually moved nowhere at the federal level (some state systems have blazed ahead). Without a legal system that works, many say the fight against organized crime is futile – one of the top criticisms that Calderón has faced on the drug front, which has overshadowed all economic news in the past six years.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Latin America's fight against drugs and violence
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It remains to be seen how his “drug war” will be perceived in future years. The criticism of Calderón's drug strategy, while largely supported by Mexicans when polled, has also garnered him relentless criticism. From many points of view, with at least 60,000 dead and thousands fleeing their home cities, that is a failure, plain and simple.
But as he leaves office, it appears that his promise of forging forward to take down top cartel leaders, citing violence as a necessary byproduct, could finally be reaping some benefits. Although the government stopped citing drug-related homicide figures in 2011, when the number stood near 50,000, Calderón told the Economist that the national homicide rate is down by 8 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same time period in 2011. Local media counts show similar trends for drug-related murder.
“No matter what he does, people will remember his government as being the one that started the war on drugs, and the big question will be if they reward Calderón for that, or if they will think that the Peña Nieto government will be the one who finally got it done,” says Jorge Buendia, a pollster in Mexico City.
Indeed, if the homicide trends continue to decrease, it could be the next administration that celebrates a calmer Mexico. And it is not only on the drug front that Calderón's legacy runs the risk of being overshadowed by that of Peña Nieto.
While Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva got the credit for a booming Brazil, it was his predecessor that actually laid the groundwork for Brazil’s success in the first decade of the 2000s. Acevedo sees a parallel with Calderón and Peña Nieto, especially if their two parties are able to work together to push through reforms in finance and energy that eluded Calderón (in many cases because of Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI).
Yet, precisely because Mexico seems to have turned a corner, there is also a risk of stagnation, says Ms. O’Neill. “My fear about where Mexico is going to be six years from now, if it starts growing at 3 to 4 percent … it may be easy for Peña Nieto to ride it out,” she says, “and not make the push or spend the political capital for the big changes needed.”
That would hurt Mexico, she says, and, ultimately, the way Calderón is viewed in hindsight: marked by a legacy bloodied by the drug war, or as the turning point in Mexico’s history.