Mexican President says poverty now first priority
Mexico City: Mexican President Felipe Calderon said on Wednesday that the top priority in the second half of his term will be reducing poverty, after the war against drug cartels took centre stage in the first three years of his administration.
Calderon launched a major offensive against drug cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006, and as recently as June of this year said that "our most important objective as a government is crime, and organised crime."
But with the offensive bogged down amid drug-related violence in many Mexican cities, and government figures showing a significant increase in poverty, Calderon set a new priority in a speech on Wednesday.
"This is our conviction, which has led us to make a significant reduction in poverty the first priority for my administration in the three remaining years ... and particularly extreme poverty," Calderon told an anti-poverty conference in Mexico City.
Figures published in July by the government showed that extreme poverty in Mexico — defined as people who cannot buy enough food — rose from 13.8 million in 2006 to 19.5 million in 2008, in a country of almost 107 million inhabitants. A broader poverty definition, including families who could not meet housings, transport, education and other normal costs, reached 50.6 million, up from 42.6 million in 2006.
Analysts and observers said that with the drug war showing mixed results and the cartels continuing to recruit impoverished or unemployed youths as gunmen, a change in course may have been needed.
"I see this as something positive in a way, given that the offensive against organised crime is not going to yield results," said Samuel Gonzalez, Mexico`s former top anti-drug prosecutor. "Given the country`s situation, they have to focus on trying to solve the problem of poverty."
Calderon`s two biggest problems — drug cartel conflicts and poverty — are related, Gonzalez noted. "The cannon fodder comes from the poorest sectors of society, and so I think it is very important to focus on that issue."
Javier Oliva, a political scientist at Mexico`s National Autonomous University, said Calderon may have changed tack because the war on drug trafficking has not had the results he hoped for."
Oliva said the change of course suggest the administration is improvising. "They lack a defined strategy," he said.
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