Fresh Leader: Interview With Mexico's President-Elect

Felipe Calderón's election headquarters is a rambling four-story building in the Del Valle area of Mexico City. As you'd expect, the walls are plastered with larger-than-life images of the candidate -- now Mexico's president-elect.

Our ABC News crew was ushered into a sterile second-floor boardroom to set up for Calderón's first foreign TV interview since his razor-thin victory. It was hardly surprising that he showed up two hours late, given all the pressures on his schedule and the ongoing questions about the legitimacy of his 0.6 percent margin of victory.

The final tally of the initial election recount has him fewer than 300,000 votes ahead of his leftist rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

For a president-elect, Calderón walked in with a surprisingly small entourage. He is not a tall man, but on meeting him, it is immediately clear he has a commanding presence.

Our initial conversation switched comfortably from Spanish to English and back again. But when I asked him to do the interview in English, he refused, insisting that his words were more precise in Spanish. For a man with a master's degree in public administration from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, it seemed like false modesty.

With a little persuading, he agreed to be interviewed in English with the caveat that he could switch to Spanish if he felt the need. Three-quarters of the interview was in very clear, very precise English.

Mexican Election: Confidence and Gentle Dig at U.S.

CALDERÓN: I won, absolutely, positive. I won the election and everyone knows it.

KOFMAN: Do you worry about people taking to the streets, about violence, because of the uncertainty here?

CALDERÓN: No, this is a democracy. Mexico is more democratic than any other country, and the result of the election will be absolutely clear, even more clear than the election in the United States in 2000.

KOFMAN: When you look at that election from 2000 and all the acrimony that we saw in the United States, what can you learn from that situation?

CALDERÓN: The U.S. electoral system has many deficiencies that the Mexican electoral system does not have. Here, we knew who the winner was on the day of the election. We are now just waiting for that information to be corroborated in the district polls. But it is 2006, and we still don't know who won the elections in 2000 in the United States.

KOFMAN: You appear to have won by 200,000 or a bit more. Your opponent has just 0.6 percent less. Do you feel the need to include that large group of Mexicans who voted for a leftist candidate?

CALDERÓN: I understand the mandate of the polls and of the citizens which is -- come to an agreement. I am going to be an inclusive president. I am not going to govern only for [my party] -- I will govern for all. That's why I invite my adversaries to join me in a national government, so that we can form a coalition. I want to include everyone.

On U.S.- Mexico Relations

Friendly, but not too friendly. He has clearly learned from the false start of current President Vicente Fox when he and President Bush were called "Los Dos Amigos." The relationship soured after Sept., 11, 2001, and never recovered. Fox paid a price at home for being seen as too close to Bush.

KOFMAN: Under your presidency, do you expect Mexico's relations with the United States to move closer or further apart?

CALDERÓN: I will try to do a closer relation with the United States. Without bowing my head, without lowering my eyes. I am absolutely sure that it is possible to establish a more constructive, more cooperative relationship with the U.S.

Most Important Issue for U.S. and Mexico

No doubts about what that is: immigration. Calderón wants a free and open labor market across the continent. And he doesn't want a proposed wall built along the U.S.-Mexico border.

KOFMAN: What do you think is the most important issue between the two countries right now?

CALDERÓN: Immigration. I can imagine the future of North America, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico like a free region, free market, free investment and free labor market -- that is really important.

I will improve the relationship in order to create a new front. I say Por Nuestra Tierra is the name of the front that I am proposing, a new front created by the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States in order to promote investment and infrastructure for poor people in all of those regions that are expelling more migrants to the U.S.

For me, the lesson is really clear. It is more effective, in order to reduce migration, to build one kilometer of one highway in Guanajuato, than ten kilometers of the wall [in] Texas or Arizona.

KOFMAN: Do you support U.S. plans to build a wall?

CALDERÓN: No, because that is not the solution for immigration. The solution is to create jobs in Mexico and to establish relationships in order to promote the development of the country. It is a social and economic phenomenon and we need to work in that order, but I do not believe in walls.

KOFMAN: Do you support the president's plan to offer illegal workers -- Mexicans and other Latin Americans -- a path to legitimate residency in the United States?

CALDERÓN: I know there is a big discussion and an amazing conflict of perceptions in American society and the American Congress. I know that. Of course, I am thinking about Mexican families. I came from Michoacan and I know how much suffering a wife goes through who has a husband who she may never see again. I know how much children suffer who will never see their father again. I think that migration is a social and economic problem that we need to solve [in] both countries and the best way to solve this is to create jobs for Mexico, and I will be "the president of jobs" in Mexico and will help the U.S. and [its] citizens in order to create jobs in Mexico.

KOFMAN: Do you think that if the United States does build this wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, it will stop illegal immigration?

CALDERÓN: I don't think so. I think that could increase tension and insecurity at the border. At the same time, I really do believe that in the middle of two big countries, there should not be walls.

On Mexico's Refusal to Support the Iraq War: No Regrets

KOFMAN: One of the reasons there have been some real tensions between the U.S. and Mexico is that the current government did not support the U.S. war in Iraq. Will you continue that policy or do you consider changing?

CALDERÓN: Thank God that we didn't support the war in Iraq.

KOFMAN: Does this mean that you can't imagine sending troops to the Middle East under your administration?

CALDERÓN: I can't imagine that situation.

Drugs: U.S. Has to Do Its Part

KOFMAN: One of the issues that has also irritated U.S.-Mexico relations is drug-related violence. What can you do to address this?

CALDERÓN: There are several problems that need to be resolved here. Mexico is doing its part and can do more but the U.S. also needs to do its part.

I am also an economist and I understand that the supply corresponds to a demand. If the U.S. manages to reduce the demand for drugs, then we will be able to reduce the supply. If that does not happen, then it will be impossible. It's incredible that Mexico has managed to capture 32,000 drug-related criminals and the majority of the capos, José Cárdenas, the Arellano Felix brothers, several of them. I don't know how many capos have been captured in the U.S.

Free Trade: It Works

KOFMAN: Let me ask you about free trade. Under a Calderón presidency, will Mexico continue to be a part of NAFTA? Will you honor it or push to have it changed?

CALDERÓN: I think that free trade benefits people -- better prices for consumers and producers. NAFTA has given Mexico more investment, more jobs, workers are gaining 42 percent more than the rest of the economy and it has created more jobs. We should continue as is.

With the interview over, the president-elect shook hands and dashed out of the room to his next appointment. It, too, was running several hours late.

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