Calderon’s Cauldron

Under dramatically inauspicious circumstances, Mexico has finally got itself a new president last Friday. Felipe Calderón has taken the oath of office, braving the wrath of his left-wing opposition, out-smarting the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) and its leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, but nonetheless paying a high price. Every TV news show and front-page headline in the world ran the same headline: “New Mexican President inaugurated in chaos and fisticuffs.”

Mexico’s institutions withstood – just barely – the onslaught of a virtually insurrectional left-wing opposition, bent in vain on stopping Calderón’s inauguration, and of a resentful Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), increasingly dedicated to allowing Calderón to take office, and then fail miserably. Calderón impressively overcame apparently insurmountable obstacles on the way to the presidency, yet the struggle to govern and transform Mexico has just begun.

Most Mexican commentators believe that it should be relatively easy for Calderón to improve on the largely self-inflicted failure of outgoing President Vicente Fox’s term. Mexico needs to grow at roughly twice the rate that it did under Fox (a meager 2% per year). If Calderón can strengthen law and order, and use his considerable political skills to reach agreement with the PRI on structural economic reforms, he will succeed.

But this view is simplistic. Fox’s term, along with the four last years of former President Ernesto Zedillo’s mandate, were hardly a failure. Not since the 1960’s had Mexico undergone ten consecutive years of economic stability, low inflation, low interest rates, a stable currency, and constant, though mediocre growth. For the first time ever, mortgages, automobile loans, and consumer credit became available to the lower middle class: this year more homes were built and sold, and more cars were bought, than ever before.