Felipe Calderon, Former Mexican President, Says He Helped Build 'More Modern, Middle Class' Country

Calderon at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this January.
Image Reuters


Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón spoke on Tuesday night in Benton Harbor, Michigan at a club of business leaders, where according to the Michigan paper the Herald-Palladium, he told the crowd that it would be unwise to discount Mexico's potential as a world economic leader.   Calderón, who was president from 2006 to 2012, said his one-term government had been partially responsible for the country's continued growth by rolling back some 16,000 regulations on trade and cutting the time needed to start a business from 58 days to 9 days.  He also pointed to investment in roads, schools and housing and programs designed to increase home ownership among lower-middle-class families. "We are today a more modern society, a middle class society, finally," he said.

That expression of relief echoes one made by US Vice President Joe Biden during a visit to Mexico in late September.  "Finally -- finally -- we have reached the point we should have reached a long time ago, I think ... where we're looking at the relationship as partners, in a wholesome way," Biden gushed then. "We have a billion dollars a day in trade. Is there any businessman or woman here who can't rationally picture in 10 years that being $2 billion?"

The Herald-Palladium writes that Calderón pointed to Whirlpool Corp., a home-appliance company with headquarters in Benton Township, as an example of the success of international businesses with operations in Mexico.  He said that since 2002, the company had doubled its operations in his country, with 20 percent of its products now made there.  "What's good for Mexico is good for Whirlpool," he said.

But Mexico's march toward prosperity hasn't been quite as smooth as the former president - now professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government - might make it out to be.  Calderón's six years in office saw some 70,000 Mexicans killed in drug-related conflict after he sent in the military to occupy some of the most hotly disputed drug turf.  His administration also adopted the tactic of targeting cartel leaders for arrest - one which often led to more bloodshed when rival members of the same cartel sought to fill the power vacuum.  The housing program he pointed to in his speech, begun in 2001 under the previous president, has been criticized for building homes far from city centers, resulting in a soaring home vacancy rate - from 2.4 percent in 2005 to 14 percent in 2010 - after their new mortgage holders abandoned them for more convenient places. 

And since current Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012, extortion and kidnapping has been on the rise in Mexico, despite a declining murder rate.  Those problems have had a serious impact on even the biggest of businesses.  In a letter addressed to Peña Nieto in September, three of the country's biggest corporations, including one owned by Carlos Slim, the world's richest man, complained that extortion money extracted from them on public works projects threatened the future of those works. 

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David Iaconangelo is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.  Formerly editor of ZafraLit, a blog of new short fiction from Cuba.  He has lived in and reported from various Latin American countries.