If the demand for drugs were to decrease in the US, we would indeed have fewer problems to deal with, Mexican President Felipe Calderon told RT. He stated that the US was the root cause of the drugs war that has claimed over 50,000 lives in Mexico.
Calderon touched upon a number of issues in his interview with RT’s sister channel Actualidad RT at the APEC summit in Vladivostok, paying special attention to relations with the US and to Mexico’s economic development.
RT: Mr. President, thank you for joining us today. First of all, since we are at the APEC summit at the moment, could you tell us what you consider to be the key points for Mexico on the APEC agenda?
Felipe Calderon: They are the same issues that are important to the whole region. First of all, it’s trade. We have to understand that trade is key to the prosperity of everybody involved – those who buy and those who sell. Buyers get good prices and high quality, and producers get more market opportunities. And today when the world is in such a difficult situation, the main way out of recession is no doubt through trade. This stands for Mexico, for the entire Asia-Pacific region, and of course for Russia.
RT: As you said, the whole world is going through crisis, though it is mostly true for the “old world.” What role can Latin America play in the global economic process?
FC: The way I see it, the economic growth to take place over the next decade will mostly occur in the Pacific Region, much of which is located in Latin America. The big picture is that our economies are growing, new jobs are being created. It is the same for Mexico – our economy is growing, new jobs are being created, many Mexican products can now compete on the global market. And the role of growing economies is to give impetus to global economic growth. To use an analogy – previously, economic growth was driven by an engine – that would be the European or the U.S. economy. What happens now is that the U.S. engine is stalling while the European one is not only stalling but actually pulling the other way. And this way the center of growth is moving to Asia-Pacific and Latin America which will play an important role in future economic growth.
RT: How do you explain Latin America’s significant economic growth?
FC: There are different reasons for it. On the one hand, and it is especially the case in South America, the reason is that these countries produce primary commodities, including food. As global food prices grow, which happens for various reasons but to a large extent due to the growing demand in China and India, the economies that produce food, such as Argentina and Brazil, grow as well. That’s one reason. This is not the case in Mexico though. In Mexico, we see manufacturing grow and become more and more competitive. We have invested significant funds in infrastructure and higher education. 113 thousand engineers graduate from Mexican universities annually – that’s more than in Germany, Canada, or the UK. This has given our economy a sizable competitive advantage. We offer a lot of benefits to investors. We have lowered taxes, so now car and cell phone manufacturers can buy the parts they need from any country in the world, which brings their business to a higher competitive level. Thus Mexico’s economic growth is largely driven by manufacturing which is growing much faster than natural resources development. On the whole, I believe that Latin American economies succeeded in finding a balance between maintaining economic stability and ensuring proper distribution of government funds. In Mexico, we can talk of low inflation, an almost zero budget deficit, investments in the development of manufacturing and a range of other factors that all together create new jobs and drive economic growth.
RТ: Let’s talk now about relations between the region’s countries and the US. They are actually quite tense with some of the states. How would you describe relations between Washington, D.C. and Mexico City?
FC: As you said, there are a lot factors involved in our relations with the U.S. – they are tense at times, but in general, we have a good working relationship. That’s true both of my personal interactions with President Obama and the relation between our administrations. The U.S. and Mexico have a long history of ups and downs, and it’s still the case today. More than a hundred years ago, one Mexican president made a famous statement: “Poor Mexico, so far from Godandso close to the United States!” However, I think that our proximity to the U.S. has its benefits as well as disadvantages. It’s great to have the world’s biggest market just round the corner, the market to which we supply billions of dollars’ worth of Mexican goods. It’s crucial for our economy. As for the problems we share, they are immigration and illegal drugs. It’s a big challenge to be a neighbour to the world’s largest illegal drugs consumer market, with all the rest of the world trying to smuggle drugs into the U.S. across our border. This complicates our relations. But I think we have managed to establish a constructive dialogue, at least that’s true of my government, in order to fight these problems together.
RТ: This year the U.S. is set to elect a new president. Do you think anything is likely to change after the election?
FC: It’s more important that nothing changes before the election. There is always a temptation to try and boost one’s pre-election campaign. The competing parties often undertake fairly unfriendly steps to secure support from various target groups. There were such incidents in the past I can tell you about – whenever some farming sector in the U.S. was losing competition to Mexican producers, its representatives would seek political leverage to oppress the Mexican economy. Fortunately, no such moves have been made this time and, hopefully, we won’t have to face anything like this in the future. I wouldn’t want to intrude into the decision-making that is solely up to the American people, but I very much hope that the mature and responsible relations the U.S. and Mexico enjoy right now will be maintained after the election.
RТ: You said you have great economic ties, but is there anything that can be done to reduce Mexico’s economic dependence on the U.S.?
PC: Yes, we are undertaking steps to achieve that. In part, our active participation in the APEC forum, coupled with our efforts to set up the Pacific Alliance with other Latin American countries – and not the U.S. – as well as our future membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership demonstrate our desire to diversify our economy.Of course, we realize that the U.S. will remain our key partner due to the geographic location, but we want to expand our trade. My motto is “More Mexico in the world and more world in Mexico.” In other words, I would very much like Mexican goods to go on sale in Russia and Russian goods and investments to come to Mexico. We want more tourists to visit us. This strategy of diversification that we have enforced recently would make our economy less dependent on the U.S. We are working on it, but it’s not easy because our economies are obviously heavily intertwined due to very obvious reasons.
RT: Let’s talk about immigration. Could you comment on the fact that lately more and more Mexican citizens who used to live in the U.S. are coming back to Mexico?
PC: It’s an interesting phenomenon that has more than one reason behind it. There’s a handful of reasons, some are good, some not so good. One of the good reasons is that we have created a solid social infrastructure and I am proud to have led this process as president. We have boosted our public healthcare package to include a full range of medical services to the population. It means that any Mexican citizen now has full access to medical assistance, professional consultations, medications or hospital treatment, should the need arise. It’s a very important achievement that improves people’s life quality. We have also achieved what many Latin American countries haven’t – that is, universal primary education. Every child is enrolled in a school. We have established 140 new universities and expanded the campuses of 96 universities. We have worked very hard.
We have supplied electricity to all towns and settlements with a population over 100 people. We have put a lot of effort into this. By the way, speaking of the last 6 years, every fourth residential house in Mexico was built during my term. Living standards have improved for a lot of people, and this makes them less willing to move to the USA – “to the other side”, as we call it. These are the good reasons.
The reasons that are not so good, there’s the economic recess in the U.S. which has affected the migration flows.
A lot of people have trouble adjusting in the U.S.and choose to come back. There are other reasons, like border incidents, fear of crime, restrictions imposed by migration authorities. According to the Pew Research Center, net migration flow from Mexico to the United States dropped to zero in 2010 and 2011. It means that the number of people returning to Mexico equaled the number of people migrating to the U.S. to work. It’s good news for us.
RT: Another problem is drug trafficking. What’s your assessment of progress in the war on drugs? What do you make of the popular statement that drug trafficking would shrink if there was a decline in demand in the US?
FC:Okay, let’s start from the very beginning. I don’t like the term “war” because ultimately it is not about the drugs. What I would like is for Mexico to become a rule-of-law state where people feel safe. My priority is not to eradicate drugs, but to create a secure environment for our people and their families. When gangs and anyone engaged in drug trafficking attack our people, we fight them, because what they do is illegal. I’ll tell you what our track is here. There was a time when our law enforcement agencies were degrading, shrinking, they became fragile and laced with corruption. To put it simply, many of them were failing to perform their duties. In some cases, they were taken over by the criminals. We know that in many countries, organized crime is growing stronger, infiltrates police and agencies, and this trend prevails. I think our main achievement is that we’ve managed to curb this trend. Now we’re reforming the police force as part of the project to reinforce our governmental bodies. Our policemen have to be honest, well-trained and have access to state-of-the-art equipment. That will make law enforcement more efficient. In this respect, I believe we are doing very well.
There is one more problem related to violence – gang clashes. What is happening in Mexico is typical for all Latin American countries. Not only do criminal gangs smuggle drugs into the U.S., they also attempt to distribute them across Latin America. This leads to turf wars and breeds violence. In spite of this, last year saw a significant decline in violence and the number of murders. We are working on it, but there is still miles to go.
As for the second part of your question, yes, the main reason for our drug trafficking problem is that the U.S. is the main drug consumer in the world. This backfired on Mexico and many other countries. If the demand for drugs were to decrease in the U.S., we would indeed have fewer problems to deal with.
RT: Solving this and many other problems requires close cooperation with other Latin American nations. What states are currently Mexico’s closest partners?
FC: To tell you the truth, we have a very good relationship with all of our neighbors in Latin America and surely with all of the states in Central America, too, including Colombia that faced a similar problem, although under different circumstances. And we are working very hard on finding a solution to it. We’re setting up a designated organization at a regional level to coordinate our efforts with greater efficiency. It was Mexico’s initiative and overall we’re making good progress. The “Mexico” platform that we created is a large-scale database monitoring criminal activity that we share with other Central American states. We are now working out procedures for intelligence exchange and ways to jointly fight crime and violence in our region.
RT: Great. I cannot help but ask you about the latest developments in Paraguay – what would be your comment on these?
FC: This is a difficult situation. We have studied it carefully. From a formal point of view, the constitutional process has been observed in Paraguay. The president was relieved from his duties in accordance with the country’s laws. My personal take on it is that I do not like this situation, but I respect constitutional decisions made by the people of Paraguay. I would personally prefer to see a scenario unroll in our region that would involve much more stability and follow a democratic track – where the question of who will rule the country is decided via a popular vote and where mechanisms are in place to ensure that the authorities report on their actions and rule out any doubts as to whether a constitutional process is in place or some turf war is going on between interest groups.
FC: We talked a little about healthcare and education. What are the greatest challenges Mexican society is facing?
RT: The issue of public safety is still withstanding. My presidential mandate expires at the end of the year and I think that the next president needs to continue with the project of building new institutions. We, Mexicans, will only rest when we have an honest police force in place, when we put an end to any corruption including corruption in the police, fiscal and judicial agencies. In this sense, this is our major challenge. On the other hand, Mexico has large potential to grow into a major economy. We need to run reforms to create more jobs. In social areas , I believe our major challenge is raising the quality of education. Yes, we are providing our youth with more opportunities to get education, but we need to raise its quality, too. We’ve already completed some reforms, yet nonetheless I believe this issue is still withstanding.
RT: You have been in office for 6 years now. What dramatic changes, in your view, have taken place in the country over this period?
FC: There have been some very important changes in many areas, one of them being a transition to a rule-of-law state. Previously, as I mentioned before, the crime rates and the level of corruption in the state agencies were very high. Today, we have managed to reverse the process. Our state agencies have become more efficient. We created a police force that has the trust of the people, established new agencies, made changes in the general Prosecutor’s office and reduced the crime rate. This is the reform we’ve undertaken. Mexico’s economy has becomecompetitive. I’ll give you two facts to support this. Today, Mexico exports more manufactured goods than all the other Latin American and Caribbean states, including Brazil, put together.At the beginning of my term Mexico was ranked the 9th largest car exporter in the world, whereas today we rank 4th,leaving behind even the U.S. We export some good cars to Russia, too. We have become a competitive economy. Another significant change in the country’s infrastructure is that this year we built more roads than over the previous two. I’ll give you another example. In the 26 years before my presidency, a total of 14 transportation tunnels of different capacity were built – whereas over the last 6 years we have built over 90. This infrastructure development is beneficial for the entire country. I already mentioned universities and health control and services which I believe to be our greatest achievement. Sure, the allowance for the retired population is quite modest, but this is the very first thing we’re doing for those who can’t work anymore or provide for themselves.
RT: What tasks are still outstanding? Something you want to do but haven’t had time yet?
FC: Speaking of reforms, we completed a partial reform in the power-generating sector. There’s still a lot to do so we can take advantage of Mexico’s great oil and gas capacities. As of today, only state enterprises are allowed to operate in this field – which results in lower efficiency and operating quality. Mexico is capable of producing and exporting much more. We need to make changes to the labor code. I filed my proposal with Congress and hope it will be passed. This will give work opportunities to men and women. It requires more transparency – in the first place, at the state and municipal levels. This is a long-term project. I also proposed a draft law to congress that aims to fight corruption and achieve full transparency in local and national authorities. These are some of the as yet unresolved matters that Congress needs to attend to.
RT:Now that a new president is soon to assume the office, what policy will he follow, what is your assessment of his agenda?
FC: That’s a good question for the new president. And despite our ideological differences, I wish him all possible success. Mexico needs all of the stages it goes through to be successful. It needs the president to enjoy all possible support he needs to tackle important national issues. Overall, I do not expect any major changes in the economy, but I am hopeful that he will continue with modernization and reforms driving Mexico to economic competitiveness. As for security issues, he said himself that he will do all he can to upgrade governmental insitutions and fight organized crime.
In social services, we have clearly defined the outlines of our healthcare, education and support of the low-income population programs. I believe this will continue roughly along the same lines though with certain other nuances typical for Mexico.
RT: Being a president inevitably changes a person. How has it changed you?
FC:It has changed me a lot. It is a job that teaches you a lot of new things, and I can say I’ve gained invaluable experience. Time passes; however, I am convinced that the experience a person gains from being in office changes them significantly. Of course, it’s the mistakes you learn from rather than the successes, but it definitely alters your perspective on your country, your people and many other things. It’s not easy to remember everything, but you cannot step twice into the same river.
RT: And the last question. Where will we see you in the future? Will you be pursuing your political career further?
FC: As for your second question, I learnt from my father when I was very young that politics is about serving the people for the common good. As a citizen of my country, I will do my best in order to achieve this goal. In this respect I will continue working for the good of Mexico. On the other hand, Mexican law does not allow the president to be re-elected, whether six, twelve or eighteen years after his term. So I’m at the end of my path, of my career in politics. President is the highest position one can ever hope to hold, but I am fifty years old now, and I have every intention to live another 50 years or so in good health. I hope that science will find a way to increase longevity. The long and eventful life that I intend to lead will be connected with my calling to serve my people, although so far I couldn’t tell you what it is exactly I’ll be doing. In the future I might spend some time working for the Academy, teaching, writing, reading – and there are a lot of books I’ve yet to read – and spending time with my children. They were little when I became president, and now they are teenagers and I would like to be there for them. That’s how I see my future. I might go back to politics eventually, or I might open a law firm dealing with infrastructure projects, I’m not sure yet.