Mexican President Felipe Calderon won praise from world leaders as host of this week’s Group of 20 summit. It’s probably not enough to get his party’s candidate elected in two weeks.
Calderon has touted the summit that wraps up today in the beach resort of Los Cabos as the biggest and most important heads of state gathering in his nation’s history. Businessmen and politicians at the gathering have heaped praise on his administration for its role on everything from attracting foreign manufacturers who helped boost exports to a record to expanding health care coverage.
Still, one of his top priorities, subduing violent drug cartels, remains unfulfilled. Voters list that battle, which has left more than 47,000 dead since Calderon took office in 2006, and sluggish job growth as their top concerns ahead of the July 1 presidential vote. Polls show Calderon’s former education minister, Josefina Vazquez Mota, looks set to finish third in the race as the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is favored to return to power.
“I’m sure Mexicans are proud that they’re hosting the G-20, but they’re looking at domestic concerns,” Robert A. Pastor, a national security adviser for Latin America during the presidency of Jimmy Carter and a professor at Washington’s American University, said in a phone interview. “His anti-drug strategy didn’t work, and they want an alternative.”
Calderon, 49, was praised early and often at the first-ever G-20 summit to be held in Latin America. Margaret Chan, the director general of the Geneva-based World Health Organization, said the president had accomplished more for health care during his term than was achieved in the previous century in Mexico.
“I’ve been following your presidency, and it is amazing,” Chan, seated beside Calderon, told delegates in a pre-summit panel held June 16. “You see very few presidents these days that walk their talk. You gave your promise to the Mexicans that you would, in your term, introduce universal health coverage,” and then delivered, she said. She joked that she wished Calderon could be re-elected despite a constitutional ban on serving more than one term.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick thanked Calderon for his commitment to multilateralism, highlighting his hosting of United Nations climate talks in 2010. Marcus Wallenberg, chairman of Swedish plane maker Saab AB, said in an interview that Calderon’s legacy would be a positive investment climate marked by a commitment to free trade and minimal government interference in the economy.
“It’s very appropriate as you close out your term that you’re also trying to do this on the international economic stage,” Zoellick said.
Such praise may be falling on deaf ears among Mexicans, who look set to boot Calderon’s National Action Party from power for the first time since Vicente Fox’s election in 2000 ended seven decades of one-party rule by the PRI.
Enrique Pena Nieto, the former PRI governor of Mexico state who’s campaigned on a promise to boost economic growth and lead a less deadly war against the drug gangs, had 37.8 percent support, ahead of Vazquez Mota’s 21.6 percent, in a poll published June 14 by Mexico City-based pollster Consulta Mitofsky. The capital’s former mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, had 24 percent backing in the survey of 1,000 people, which had a 3.1 percentage point margin of error.
Calderon, in speeches to delegates, touted his own economic achievements. Those include attracting investment from Nissan Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. that he said will allow Mexico this year to surpass the U.S. and become the world’s fourth largest car exporter from ninth place when he took office.
Even as the U.S. economic recovery stalls, Calderon’s government is forecasting growth this year of 3.5 percent and expects exports to surpass a 2011 record of $350 billion. The U.S. buys 80 percent of Mexico’s shipments abroad.
In a sign of Mexico’s growing clout, Calderon last night promised to contribute $10 billion in new resources for the International Monetary Fund, matching pledges by Russia and India, as well as Brazil, which has an economy twice its size.
In advance of the summit, Calderon ordered built the world’s largest pollution-trapping green wall in Los Cabos’s new convention center, to emphasize his government’s G-20 agenda for sustainable development.
To European leaders who are struggling to quell a debt crisis now in its third year, he offered Mexico experience stabilizing its own economy in the 1980s and 1990s as a model.
“Even though European leaders have said that they did not come to the Summit to learn a lesson, they should open their ears to the suggestions of the extensively-trained managers of the crises from the past,” Alfredo Coutino, Latin America director at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania, wrote in a report today. “If Latin America did it, Asia did it, why can’t Europe” overcome its economic woes?
Alejandro Hernandez, chief executive officer of Operadora Cinepolis SA, a movie theater operator, cautioned that Mexicans shouldn’t take Calderon’s achievements for granted.
“There’s a natural erosion for any party that has been in power for 12 years,” he said in an interview in Los Cabos. “People sometimes take as a given how things are and quickly forget how things were a few years ago.”