Mexico’s Calderón Faces More Obstacles Ahead

TORREÓN, Mexico -- Felipe Calderón arrived to the Mexican presidency two years ago with a weak mandate and amid wild controversy. The presidential election's runner-up, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, alleged electoral fraud and called the new government illegitimate; his supporters took over the streets of Mexico City for weeks, and congressional allies tried to physically prevent Calderón from taking the oath of office. Calderón raced through his swearing-in ceremony in front of a crowd of scuffling legislators, before stealing off to give his inaugural address elsewhere.

The inauspicious opening belied what would become a remarkably bold first year in office. Days after arriving, Calderón began breaking security taboos. First, he deployed the army to fight drug runners in Mexico's most violent regions. He furthered his security bona fides when he extradited 14 kingpins to the United States in January 2007, including Gulf Cartel boss Osiel Cárdenas. The government's strategy helped precipitate a pact among the different cartels in June 2007, which led to a temporary drop in violence. After a couple of months in office, Mexicans rewarded their earnest president with approval ratings that exceeded 60 percent, almost double his level of support in the elections that brought him to the presidency.

Calderón converted that popularity into a series of legislative gains, something that always eluded his predecessor Vicente Fox. Despite the lack of a congressional majority for his National Action Party (PAN), Calderón's team found common ground with the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI), which led to the passage of social security, fiscal, and electoral reforms. Calderón's first year alone represented a greater legislative haul than Fox's six years in office.

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