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Mexico’s Calderon Says Organized Crime Gangs Threaten Democracy

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon said organized crime gangs threaten democracy and pose his biggest challenge in returning security to the country.

“Those who say that it would’ve been better not to confront the criminals are roundly mistaken,” he said yesterday at a speech in Mexico City marking his fifth year in office. “If we hadn’t done this, the criminals would have advanced on our societies and institutions.”

Calderon said that no political party should be silent in what he called a worrying development of organized crime groups intervening in elections. “Crime, as I’ve said, is now also constituting an open threat to democracy,” he said.

The Attorney General’s Office is investigating alleged criminal intervention in the Nov. 13 elections in the western state of Michoacan. Calderon’s sister, Luisa Maria Calderon, lost the governorship by a narrow margin to Fausto Vallejo, the contender for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as PRI.

The outcome of the election was affected by messages printed in newspapers threatening voters and by threats received by some candidates, German Tena, head of the National Action Party, or PAN, in Michoacan state, said in a Nov. 14 interview.

Calderon, speaking at the Campo Marte complex, defended the use of the Army as the best option to fighting organized crime and said he would combat drug trafficking groups until his last day in office. During his administration, 21 of the 37 most-wanted drug lords have been captured or killed, he said.

Unified Police Force

The president urged Congress to pass reforms to strengthen security forces, such as a bill that would create one unified police force for each Mexican state and do away with numerous municipal police departments. That law “would permit us to reduce police forces from more than 2,000 to 32, and make them more trustworthy, strong and effective,” Calderon said.

About 43,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Calderon began his offensive against drug cartels when he took office Dec. 1, 2006, according to an Oct. 4 report by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The most recent evidence includes the discovery of 26 dead in Guadalajara in abandoned trucks last month and an arson attack on a casino that killed 52 people in Monterrey in August.

Calderon’s PAN is facing a strong opponent in next July’s presidential race. The PRI, which ruled Mexico for over seven decades until Vicente Fox took the presidency in 2000, is ahead in most public opinion polls.

Growing Economy

Calderon said that while facing the worst crisis in recent history, Mexico has maintained a stable economy and has grown more competitive globally. The country created 815,000 jobs so far this year, Calderon added.

The president said that structural reforms his party has been pushing, such as a bill that would make it easier to hire and fire employees, is essential. It is “unpardonable” that Mexico is denied these economic reforms that are so necessary to increase employment in Mexico, Calderon said.

Mexico’s central bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged Dec. 2 at 4.50 percent for a 23rd straight meeting after economic growth picked up and a weaker peso threatened to spur inflation, offsetting concern Europe’s debt crisis will damp a global expansion.

Policy makers, led by Governor Agustin Carstens, reiterated that the central bank is open to cut rates if global easing continues. Latin America’s second-biggest economy grew 4.5 percent in the third quarter, up from 3.2 percent in the previous three months, even as growth in the U.S., its largest trading partner, remained sluggish.

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