JOHN YDSTIE, host:
A brawl broke out in Mexico's congress today, just before the swearing in of the country's new president, Felipe Calderon. Some leftist lawmakers blocked the doors to the congressional chamber, where Calderon is to be inaugurated later today, and exchanged punches with their conservative colleagues. Calderon took power in a midnight ceremony with outgoing President Vicente Fox, and called on Mexicans to move beyond the disputed presidential election.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.
(Soundbite of helicopter)
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Helicopters whirl overhead. On the ground, concentric rings of metal barricades have been set up. There are checkpoints everywhere, manned by thousands of federal police. It looks like a Iraq's Green Zone but in fact it's Mexico's congress.
Unidentified Group: (Speaking foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Inside, media push and shove to get pictures of legislator's camp down in the chamber. The congressmen had been there for days, taking shifts in order to shower, and napping in sleeping bags. Members of Felipe Calderon's party vow to hold the podium so he could enter to take his oath. The opposition leftist party had up until the last minute promised they would not allow it.
Mr. SERGIO AGUAYO (Mexican Analyst and Commentator): I mean the work has begun, I mean the trenches have been established.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mexican analyst Sergio Aguayo.
Mr. AGUAYO: This is not normal. This is the first time in the last century that a president will not necessarily swear office in the halls of congress.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Six years ago, when now former President Vicente Fox won the elections, it had all been so different. The country was riding a wave of optimism after he broke 71 years of one-party rule. That hopefulness is now all but disappeared on all sides of the political spectrum.
Professor DENISE DRESSER (Political Science, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México): I am Denise Dresser, professor of political science. The first word that occurs to me is disappointing, a wasted opportunity. He preferred to view the country through a rosy colored lens and ended up governing a place that only existed inside his head.
Mr. SERGIO SARMIENTO (Journalist, TV Azteca): I am Sergio Sarmiento. I'm a journalist with TV Azteca. Many Mexicans believed that this was a great opportunity to build new institutions, to build a new prosperity. And I do believe we have many opportunities, and they just weren't taken advantage of by the president.
Mr. ANDRES ROSENTHAL (President, Mexican Council on Foreign Relations): I am Andres Rosenthal, president of Mexican Council on Foreign Relations. I would put the biggest failure, the failure of leadership. He was waffling between various factions within his own government, and within his own political party, and the political system as a whole, to try to please everybody, and ended up pleasing nobody.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Still, says Rosenthal…
Mr. ROSENTHAL: I think there was a lot achieved on transparency. Housing is one of the I think stellar performances for the Fox administration.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where people possibly expected the most from Fox was with the economy. Mexico had been stable, and this year hundreds of thousands of jobs were created for the first time. But this country is now one of the most unequal societies on earth. According to a recent U.N. report, the rich simply got richer under Fox, and those who couldn't benefit from the system of patronage and monopolies, voted with their feet, heading north in huge numbers. Pollster Dan Lund.
Mr. DAN LUND (Pollster): In spite of the fact that phrases like free trade and open markets flow trippingly off the tongue of everybody here, there is no opening up of markets. Mexico has a set of some of the most closed and privileged markets in the world, whether it's construction with cement, whether it's telecom, whether it's television.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so, says Denise Dresser, Fox is partly responsible, for better or for worse, for the rise of leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who's declared himself the legitimate president of Mexico despite officially losing in the polls.
Prof. DRESSER: So Lopez Obrador is a symptom, a symptom of how slowly Mexico is modernizing and how unfair that modernization has been. He exists because Mexican elites haven't understood that they need to share the country.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he doesn't look like he's going away anytime soon. Around 20 percent of Mexicans - that's 20 million people - believe there was fraud on election day. It's a stubborn constituency that will make it difficult for Felipe Calderon to govern at all. For now, Lopez Obrador's party in congress, the PRD, is following his lead and they say they will not recognize Calderon. Mexico's new president too is faced with unrest and repression in the state of Oaxaca and a violent drug conflict across the country. Sergio Sarmiento says the best-case scenario is that all these problems will work in his favor.
Mr. SARMIENTO: Calderon has been pressed so much that he might actually react in such a way that will make him a better president.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Or possibly not. Calderon has named his cabinet. Among the most controversial is Francisco Ramirez for secretary of interior. He's the former governor of Jalisco, a man that human rights activists say has been heavy handed with dissent in the past. There have been allegations that jailed anti-globalization protesters were tortured in his state. No one knows what kind of president Calderon will make, though all agree on one point: He will be starting without the vast political capital that Fox largely squandered.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.