“It is spectacle, basically,” Lopez Obrador said recently. “A media campaign. He is a president of the media. He’s president of the television, of all things to do with media. There is nothing serious.” Calderon, a conservative free-trade advocate, dismissed Lopez Obrador’s criticisms with a wave of his hand during an interview Friday, saying there were millions of Mexicans and “every one of them has an opinion just as respectable as his.” In the interview, Calderon said he believed his push to take on crime and poverty from the day of his swearing in on Dec. 1 had put to rest questions about the election. Still, he acknowledged the biggest challenges were ahead. He has said he wants to break up Mexico’s many monopolies, duopolies and cartels in various private sectors, from cement-makers to brewers. He also wants to let private companies compete with the state electricity monopoly and persuade Congress to devote more of the profits from the state oil monopoly to exploration and drilling. Electricity rates are high and the oil monopoly, Pemex, is in trouble because the government continues to use its profits to subsidize the federal budget rather than to modernize the industry. Calderon also seeks to overhaul the justice system. He wants to purge the local, state and federal police forces of corrupt officers, and train the forces to investigate crimes. And he would like to change the penal system so people are not detained for years before trial. Asked about international affairs and Mexico’s role in the region, Calderon walked a fine line. He refuses directly to criticize Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan populist who has been using his country’s oil wealth to undermine U.S. hegemony. Yet he says he is worried about a trend he characterizes as “the very Latin American tendency to go back to authoritarians.” He also said he admired Fidel Castro’s leadership abilities and praised him for spearheading the Cuban revolution. But he added that he did not agree with the “conditions of political life” under the Marxist government. Calderon says he believes Mexico can promote democracy, but he has made it clear he will do so on his terms, not as a proxy for the United States. “Mexico has to play a very active role in Latin America,” he said, “a role of equilibrium, cooperation, leadership, specifically in this moment when Latin America is questioning its destiny and where it is going.” The new Mexican president is not shy about attacking the United States either. In speeches he often throws barbs at Washington, as he did Friday at the opening of a new wastewater treatment plant in the desert about 16 miles outside Mexicali. He took the opportunity to lambaste American plans to reline a canal on the other side of the border and stop the seepage of water that currently irrigates farms in Mexico. “There is an absurd paradox in that while they work for less immigration, they are cutting off more and more opportunities for work here for Mexicans,” he said to cheers. One reason for Calderon’s popularity is a widespread perception that he is more effective than Vincente Fox, his predecessor. Fox made promises he could not keep, mostly because he could not forge coalitions in Congress to enact the necessary legislation. Calderon says he delegates less authority than Fox did and tries only to announce programs he can deliver right away. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The new president cracked down on violent protests that were tearing apart the colonial city of Oaxaca. He has sent troops and federal agents into several states to combat drug cartels. He also extradited several high-level drug kingpins to the United States. And this past week he took a strong stand in meetings with Bush, re-establishing Mexico’s historic diplomatic neutrality in the region and firmly criticizing the United States for its immigration policies. “After completing his first 100 days in office, we see he has managed in no small measure to legitimize himself through his performance, compensating for his lack of electoral legitimacy,” said Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst. His detractors say Calderon’s presidency so far has been more flash than substance. They point out, for instance, that gangland slayings continue at a strong pace despite the show of force by the military and federal police in drug-plagued states. Rafael Segovia, a political scientist at the College of Mexico, said, “The truth is, I don’t see advances. We’re living through a crisis in the security system.” MEXICO CITY – President Felipe Calderon is on a roll. You can see it in his relaxed manner these days, his ease at the lectern, whether he is meeting with President George W. Bush or swinging through Baja, California, to unveil new projects. “I enjoy my work as president,” he said during an interview aboard his official jet Friday, his eyes bright behind rimless, technocrat glasses. “With all the problems and tensions, which are enormous, I am fulfilling a personal dream for which I have prepared all my life.” He has reason to look relieved. Just a few months ago, his paper-thin victory gave him almost no mandate in the eyes of many voters, and his leftist rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, threatened to thwart his tenure with violent protests, arguing that the election last year had been fraudulent. Now, recent polls show, Calderon’s approval ratings are above 50 percent. He has buried Lopez Obrador under a flurry of projects and proposals, relegating his former nemesis to the netherworld of political gadflies and malcontents deep inside the daily newspapers.
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