President Felipe Calderón tried his best during his fifth state of the union speech Thursday to put a positive spin on the drug war offensive that has come to define his presidency.
“We’ve now captured, or taken down while capturing, 21 of the 37 most dangerous criminal leaders operating in Mexico, and we’re coming for the rest of them,” Calderón said Thursday. He vowed to continue taking on the cartels until his last day as president. (Spanish speakers can check out the speech below.)
It’s not a new message. Calderón, who launched the drug war that has claimed at least 40,000 deaths over the last five years, routinely reaffirms his commitment to push on with the military offensive and clean up public institutions.
What’s become clear, however, is that the public doesn’t share Calderón’s confidence. Less than half of Mexicans think the federal government is making progress in the drug war, according to a report from the Pew Global Attitudes Project released this week. Perhaps more worrisome for Calderón, 29 percent of respondents think the government is losing ground against the cartels.
Not all the news from the Pew study was bad for Calderón, however. The vast majority of Mexicans surveyed, 83 percent, support using the military to fight the cartels.
But Calderón’s popularity has obviously suffered. His approval rating stands at 52 percent as of July, according to Mitofsky, a Mexican pollster. The figure may not seem so bad when compared to other Latin American leaders–Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s approval is down 26 percent, for example–but it marks the lowest level of confidence in a president from the National Action Party since Vicente Fox took office 11 years ago.
Mitofsky also found that 59 percent of Mexicans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Calderón’s drop in popularity comes despite spending $367 million on publicity to develop a public relations campaign that includes more frequent television spots, riding horseback to emulate revolutionary hero Francisco Madero, and dropping confrontational rhetoric in favor of appeals to unity.
Perhaps anticipating criticism, Calderón for the first time will reach out to the public through the Web on Monday at 5pm. Those interested in sending the Mexican president a question can do so at the Presidency’s Web site.
With 964,361 followers on Twitter at the time of writing, Calderón is no stranger to social media. Mexican news site Sin Embargo points out, however, that while Calderón may know how to tweet, he doesn’t bother responding to the messages he receives from the public. Monday’s event will mark the first time the Calderón has held a public forum on the Web.
The idea to field questions from the public on the Internet may have been inspired by Senate President Manlio Fabio Beltrones Rivera’s successful presentation of his annual report through Facebook and Twitter. Beltrones, who is a member of the opposition Revolutionary Institutional Party, scored points with both political allies and opponents alike by interacting with people, according to Sin Embargo.
If Twitter is any guide to what Calderón will face on Monday, he should expect a tough crowd. Following Calderón’s Thursday speech, the hashtag #JUICIOACALDERON (“TRIALFORCALDERON”) was trending in Mexico. A couple of representative tweets include:
“#TRIALFORCALDERON why? in his 5th State of the Union he said the same thing as in the First! do you remember?”
“The person who governs Mexico should not feel he can, with impunity, throw the country over the abyss. #TRIALFORCALDERON A message to the political class.”
“For the thousands of people displaced by @FelipeCalderon’s stupid and irresponsible war, Mexicans demand #TRIALFORCALDERON.”
The Mexican Presidency, on the other hand, appears interested in fostering a debate that doesn’t harp on the drug war. The slick video for Monday’s Web event shows Mexicans of all ages asking questions about social issues (“Why are there still so many people that are so poor?”), public policy (“Why aren’t there enough programs to really help integrate handicapped into society?”), and the occasional frivolity (“What’s your favorite band from the 1970s?”).
No one in the video mentions the cartels and only one person mentions, using vague language, “the issue of insecurity.” The last person to appear congratulates Calderón for the “hard work he has done for Mexico.”