President Felipe Calderon will step down in December
He will be replaced by Enrique Pena Nieto, who leads a rival party
More than 47,500 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006
Mexican President Felipe Calderon defended his government’s approach to combating crime and drugs Monday during his final state of the nation address.
More than 47,500 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, when Calderon took office and announced plans to deploy troops to combat cartels.
He steps down in December.
“What’s clear … is that we’ve made advances Mexicans should feel proud of,” the president said, adding that it may take years for his government’s efforts to come to full flower. “Mexico has started along the path toward a life full of liberty and security.”
Calderon, who spoke at the National Palace, voiced support for the role of government troops in the drug war. Critics contend too many officials have ties to the cartels, are corrupt and are doing as much to help the traffickers as to stop them.
Mexican authorities recently accused four top military officials, including a former deputy defense secretary, of connections with organized crime in what could be one of the highest-profile corruption cases in recent history.
Though Calderon admitted mistakes have been made, he said such abuses are the exception, not the rule, and described the military as the nation’s first line of defense.
As he has in the past, he criticized the United States for providing criminals with almost “unlimited access” to weapons.
The president also hailed progress made on the economic front during his administration.
Roughly 2 million jobs were created, he said, stressing that security and growth go hand in hand. He highlighted investments made in infrastructure, particularly along rural roads.
Calderon, who belongs to the right-wing National Action Party, will be replaced by Enrique Pena Nieto, a member of the rival Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
Some political opponents of Pena Nieto, whose party governed Mexico for more than 70 years until 2000, have warned that negotiating with drug cartels and gangs could be on his agenda – an accusation that Pena Nieto has repeatedly denied.
Calderon urged the next government to continue the fight against organized crime.
Pena Nieto has pledged to focus more on reducing violence and less on catching cartel leaders and blocking drugs from reaching the United States. He has called for a “new debate” on the drug war, in which the United States would play a significant part.
Pena Nieto will be sworn into office on December 1.
CNNMexico.com contributed to this report.