Eduardo Verdugo, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY — When he came to power six years ago, President Felipe Calderon set goals to alleviate poverty, create jobs and increase public safety.
As he winds up his term at the end of this week, Calderon leaves Mexico with fiscal stability that saved the country from collapse during the world's economic crisis, but with far greater violence, very little change in poverty levels and anemic job growth.
His National Action Party, or PAN, was considered the hope for a new democracy when his predecessor, Vicente Fox, defeated the Institutional Revolutionary Party after 71 years of rule. Now Calderon is handing the presidency back to the Old Guard party known as the PRI, and with it a country deeply divided about where Mexico is headed. As one of his final acts, he proposed to drop the name "United States" from the United States of Mexico.
"After six years of exercising power and the country not changing for the better, he decided he could at least change the name," columnist and historian Lorenzo Meyer chided in Thursday's Reforma newspaper. "Nice going!"
A formal man in public, Calderon was said to keep a tight circle of like-minded confidants and had little trust in outsiders. Although he operated under Mexico's old presidential model of a quasi-monarch, Calderon didn't have the power to order change under the country's new democratic government. He was commonly described as stubborn, with some even calling him a zealot, especially in his crusade against organized crime.
But he was known to loosen up when speaking about Mexico's international triumphs in sports and about tourism, even spelunking and riding a zip line in the name of promoting his country as a great place to visit.
He is also widely lauded for keeping Mexico from crashing during one of the worst global economic crises in history.
"If there is something we can applaud about 12 years under the PAN it's the economic discipline that kept us on the margins of a major crisis," said pollster Roy Campos. "We were shielded and we're ready to grow."
Indeed, Calderon leaves office Saturday amid international media buzz about Mexico's potential growth over the next few years, mainly because of its already booming manufacturing sector. But international economic organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, say Mexico still lacks the necessary reforms to energy, tax structure and other institutions to increase productivity and growth.
Calderon tried to pass such reforms but was unsuccessful in a divided congress, save for a labor reform he signed Thursday. It was passed with the help of the PRI and President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, who was elected July 1 by a comfortable margin. Calderon could not be re-elected under Mexican law that allows for only single presidential terms.
The outgoing leader also did little to change transparency or rule of law. The government office to fight corruption was run by a political appointee rather than an investigator. His judicial reform for open trials based on evidence has barely been implemented four years after it was first approved.
Even some of his own government statistics don't make him look good. When Calderon took office in December 2006, about 43 percent of the population lived in poverty, earning less than $100 month. In the most recent government measure, 2010, that had increased to 46 percent, a fall many blame on the economic crisis and rising food prices. No newer government figures are available.
In late 2006, Mexico had 13.6 million formal jobs. By last month, that had grown to more than 16 million, with more than 2.6 million new formal jobs added over six years. While an improvement, that's nowhere near the estimated 6 million Calderon's government needed to create to meet the demand of an expanding working-age population that grows by about 1.2 million people a year.
Meanwhile, homicides over the course of the six-year term totaled 101,199, about 36 percent higher compared to those of the previous administration, according to a report by the private research center Mexico Evaluates.
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