TORREÓN, Mexico -- Ever since Mexico's Felipe Calderón took office in 2006, his presidency has been irrevocably identified with one issue more than any other: security. Calderón has staked the credibility of his administration, not to mention the country's bilateral relationship with the United States, on attacking drug runners, dismantling kidnapping syndicates, and making Mexico an overall safer country.
But despite some improvements in Mexico's institutional capacity to fight crime, Calderón's security gamble has largely backfired. The present levels of drug-related violence are worse than ever before, and Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, has become the hemisphere's most violent city -- if the not the world's. Meanwhile, Mexico remains one of the worst countries in the world on kidnapping. So while Calderón remains personally popular, crime is a major reason why his party looks like a spent force, having been soundly trounced in the July midterms.
As a result, Calderón has begun to shift his political agenda away from security. The first clue was his State of the Union Address in September. The speech, which came on the heels of the midterm losses, set his 10 governing priorities for the second half of his six-year term. Significantly, security issues appeared only once on the list, and not until the ninth spot, despite having been the dominant theme of his presidency to date.By contrast, economic and financial concerns made for six of the agenda items.