Austin Bay

Credit Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, with vision and guts.

In the midst of the Cartel War's vicious bloodletting, Calderon continues to pursue his "systemic revolution" on multiple fronts, and he's doing so with an enviable cool and steadiness.

Despite his National Action Party's (PAN) political losses in the July Chamber of Deputies election, Calderon's post-election statesmanship indicates he intends to pursue his liberalizing, reformist agenda during his remaining three years in office.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which for decades dominated Mexico, gained clout in the elections. The PRI's track record of debilitating corruption is notorious. Calderon argues PAN suffered in the July vote because the global economic downturn hit Mexico hard. He genuinely believes the Mexican people know that "bribery as business as usual" fostered Mexico's sclerotic economic mess. Corruption saps economic productivity and destroys political confidence.

The confident Calderon sees the Cartel War as part of a larger struggle for the terms of modernity in Mexico. A modern, competitive 21st-century Mexico will not emerge until the kleptocrats are jailed and their fiefdoms are either eliminated or drastically reformed.

Calderon's "Limpiemos Mexico" campaign to "clean up Mexico" isn't hollow rhetoric. His government has energized its departments of social development, public education and health. Restoring confidence means responding to problems. Corruption in the security forces and judiciary creates "dirty space" for crime, from drug trafficking to embezzlement by government officials, so judicial and police reforms are key to Calderon's systemic process. Mexicans have heard that promise before, but the Calderon government can tout examples of detailed reform planning and implementation. The government recently refused to rehire 700 customs inspectors. New customs personnel have been specially trained to combat narcotics smugglers and identify smuggling techniques. They also have been through military-like security checks to ensure they do not have criminal records.

An evolving free trade deal with Brazil is Calderon's latest international political endeavor -- and one with multiple dimensions, with domestic economic reform and development a central facet.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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