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Calderon eyes legacy in last national address

MEXICO CITY -- As he nears the end of this six-year term, Mexican President Felipe Calderon leaves his country with a better-armored economy — as well as more armored cars on the streets.

Calderon delivered his final state-of-the-nation speech on Monday, trying to cement his legacy as the president who stabilized the economy and took on the country's entrenched organized crime groups, putting Mexico on the road to rule of law.

“It's been our generation's job to assume the costs and risks of making urgent changes in politics and security,” he said in the speech at the National Palace. “The reform has begun to bear fruit, but real results will only be seen in the future.”

He said his economic achievements include armoring the economy against external risks with US$159.8 billion in international reserves as of Aug. 17.

He said the administration oversaw the creation of nearly 1.9 million jobs despite a global economic crisis.

Observers agree that the short-term verdict on the Calderon administration is decidedly mixed, starting with the fact that voters in the July national elections were so weary of his tenure that they kicked his party out of the presidency and brought back the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

No one knows if drug violence has tapered in the last few months, as his administration claims, because the government stopped providing the officials statistics a year ago. Public corruption persists and the economy for everyday Mexicans is sluggish.

The sale of armored vehicles in Mexico has at least doubled since Calderon took office and the homicide rate has soared, with decapitations and mass slayings so common they often no longer make the front pages of national newspapers — and with local papers often too intimidated to cover them at all.

“Mexico is a long way from having strong rule of law still, and a solid economic base has not necessarily led to the kind of jobs that people hope to have,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “It's a well-managed economy but it's not a dynamic economy. And that's the legacy.”

Mexico's president is limited to one six-year term and Calderon's will end Dec. 1, when President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto takes office in what was once considered Calderon's worst nightmare, handing the country back to the party that was kicked out of power in 2000 after years of rule, often by coercion and corruption.

Calderon has said he learned to fight the PRI at the knee of his father, a founder of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, and he openly criticized the rival party before the election for its history of suppressing dissent. Other members of the PAN openly accused the PRI of making pacts with drug traffickers.

Calderon's criticisms have been more muted since Pena Nieto's victory, officially declared by the country's electoral tribunal last week, a change in tone that many say is due his negotiations with the incoming administration to help bolster his legacy.

“He talks about a change in paradigm, which is true compared to the previous paradigm under the PRI of tolerating criminals, but his paradigm of combatting them has not been 100 percent successful and caused a negative effect on society in terms of violence and situations of terror in certain border cities,” said Raul Benitez, an expert on security at Mexico's National Autonomous University.

Calderon acknowledged during the speech that mistakes have been made in his government's fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, but he said the effort helped to prevent criminals from taking control of the country.

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Mexico's President Felipe Calderon delivers his state-of-the-nation address to Congress in Mexico City, Monday, Sept. 3. Calderon delivered his final state-of-the-nation speech on Monday, trying to cement his legacy as the president who stabilized the economy and took on the country's entrenched organized crime groups, putting Mexico on the road to rule of law. (AP)

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