Biography of Felipe Calderón, Mexican President (2006 to 2012)

Felipe Calderón holds a microphone while addressing an audience
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Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa (born August 18, 1962) is a Mexican politician and former President of Mexico who came to power after the controversial 2006 election. A member and former leader of the NAP or National Action Party (in Spanish, the PAN or Partido de Acción Nacional), Calderón is a social conservative but a fiscal liberal. He served as the Secretary of Energy under the previous administration before becoming President.

Fast Facts: Felipe Calderon

  • Known For: Mexican leader and politician
  • Also Known As: Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa
  • Born: August 18, 1962 in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
  • Parents: Luis Calderón Vega and Carmen Hinojosa Calderón
  • Education: Escuela Libre de Derecho, ITAM, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Awards and Honors: Order of the Quetzal, Order of the Bath, Order of Civil Merit, Order of Isabella the Catholic, National Order of José Matias Delgado, Order of the Elephant, National Order of the Southern Cross, Order of the Merit of Chile, Order of Belize, WEF Global Leadership Statesmanship Award, Time's People Who Mattered, Honorary Chair of the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate, and more
  • Spouse: Margarita Zavala
  • Children: María, Luis Felipe and Juan Pablo.
  • Notable Quote: "It's the least developed countries who are the least responsible when you talk about global warming. But at the same, time they are the ones who suffer the severest consequences of climate change in the world."

Background and Personal Life

Calderón comes from a political family. His father was one of several founders of the PAN party at a time when Mexico was essentially ruled by one party only, the PRI or Revolutionary Party. An excellent student, Felipe earned degrees in law and economics in Mexico before going to Harvard University, where he received a Masters of Public Administration. He joined the PAN as a young man and quickly proved capable of important posts within the party structure.

In 1993, he married Margarita Zavala, who once served in the Mexican Congress. They have three children, all born between 1997 and 2003.

Political Career

Calderón served as a representative in the Federal Chamber of Deputies, a parliamentary body resembling the House of Representatives in the U.S. In 1995, he ran for governor of the state of Michoacán, but lost to Lázaro Cárdenas, another son of a famous political family. He nevertheless went on to national prominence, serving as national chairman for the PAN party from 1996 to 1999. When Vicente Fox (who is also a member of the PAN party) was elected president in 2000, Calderón was appointed to several important posts, including director of Banobras, a state-owned development bank, and Secretary of Energy.

2006 Presidential Election

Calderón’s road to the presidency was bumpy. First, he had a falling-out with Vicente Fox, who openly endorsed another candidate, Santiago Creel. Creel later lost to Calderón in a primary election. In the general election, his most serious opponent was Andrés Manuel López Obrador, representative of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Calderón won the election, but many of López Obrador’s supporters believe that significant election fraud took place. The Mexican Supreme Court decided that President Fox’s campaigning on Calderón's behalf had been questionable, but the results stood.

Presidential Policies

A social conservative, Calderón opposed issues such as gay marriage, abortion (including the “morning-after” pill), euthanasia, and contraception education. His administration was fiscally moderate to liberal, however. He was in favor of free trade, lower taxes and privatization of state-controlled businesses.

Early on in his presidency, Calderón adopted many of López Obrador’s campaign promises, such as a price cap for tortillas. This was seen by many as an effective way to neutralize his former rival and his supporters, who continued to be very vocal. He raised the wages of the armed forces and police while placing a cap on the salaries of high-level civil servants. His relationship with the U.S. was relatively friendly: he had several talks with U.S. lawmakers regarding immigration and ordered the extradition of some drug traffickers that were wanted north of the border. In general, his approval ratings were fairly high among most Mexicans, the exception being those who accused him of election fraud.

War on the Cartels

Calderon gained worldwide recognition for his all-out war on Mexico's drug cartels. Mexico's powerful smuggling cartels silently ship tons of narcotics from Central and South America into the U.S. and Canada, making billions of dollars. Other than the occasional turf war, no one heard much about them. Previous administrations had left them alone, letting "sleeping dogs lie." But Calderon took them on, going after their leaders; confiscating money, weapons, and narcotics; and sending army forces into lawless towns. The cartels, desperate, responded with a wave of violence.

Calderón staked much on his anti-cartel initiative. His war on the drug lords was well received on both sides of the border, and he forged close ties with the U.S. and Canada to help combat the cartel operations all over the continent. Violence was an ongoing concern—an estimated 12,000 Mexicans died in 2011 in drug-related violence—but many saw it as a sign the cartels are hurting.

November 2008 Plane Crash

President Calderon's efforts to fight organized drug cartels suffered a major setback in November 2008, when a plane crash killed fourteen people, including Juan Camilo Mourino, Mexico's Secretary of the Interior, and Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, a high-profile prosecutor of drug-related crimes. Although many suspected the accident was the result of sabotage ordered by drug gangs, evidence seems to indicate pilot error.

Post-Presidential Legacy

In Mexico, presidents may only serve one term, and Calderon's came to a close in 2012. In the presidential elections, moderate Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI won, beating out López Obrador and PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota. Pena Nieto promised to continue Calderon's war on the cartels.

Mexicans see Calderon's term as a limited success, as the economy continued to slowly grow. He will forever be linked with his war on the cartels, however, and Mexicans have mixed feelings about that. When Calderon's term ended, there was still a stalemate of sorts with the cartels. Many of their leaders had been killed or captured, but at great cost of lives and money for the government. Since stepping down as President of Mexico, Calderon has become an outspoken proponent of global action on climate change.

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Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Felipe Calderón, Mexican President (2006 to 2012)." ThoughtCo, Oct. 2, 2021, Minster, Christopher. (2021, October 2). Biography of Felipe Calderón, Mexican President (2006 to 2012). Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Felipe Calderón, Mexican President (2006 to 2012)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).