Pubdate: Thu, 31 Jan 2013
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Nicholas Casey


MEXICO CITY-The arrangement at first seemed simple: Harvard University
would give Mexico's departing leader a one-year fellowship to do some
research there.

But ex-President Felipe Calderon's position has sparked controversy
over whether the prestigious institution should open its doors to a
man whose war against drug traffickers led to tens of thousands of
deaths during his six-year term, which ended Dec. 1.

The debate isn't taking place at the hallowed halls of Cambridge,
Mass., but here in Mexico, where the lectureship Mr. Calderon started
Monday has vaulted him back to the front pages of newspapers, to the
top of radio hours, and to talk among ordinary Mexicans.

Two top Mexican activists wrote an open letter to a Harvard dean
questioning the appointment. A pair of petitions posted on website have generated about 34,000 signatures of mostly Mexicans
who object to Harvard's offer and accuse Mr. Calderon of waging a
reckless drug war. The petitions' organizers presented them to the
Harvard president Tuesday.

A conservative lawyer, Mr. Calderon earned praise for being the first
president to aggressively take on drug gangs and capture and kill top
barons. But at least 60,000 other Mexicans were killed, and an
estimated 25,000 are still missing.

In a statement, Mr. Calderon's spokesman defended the ex-president,
saying he "did the right thing, he fought crime as never before, began
a process of rebuilding law enforcement institutions that was
necessary to reverse a process of corruption that was destroying
them." He blamed past attacks and the Harvard imbroglio on "radical
critics and opponents."

The backlash seems to have taken Harvard by surprise. Many professors
there laud Mr. Calderon's achievements and say he is a moderate and a
far cry from Latin American strongmen of yesteryear. They argue Mr.
Calderon faced difficult choices and even made mistakes-but that is
the very material of debate at an institution like Harvard.

"A university that only appoints people who agree with each other
should shut down," said Jorge Dominguez, who teaches courses on
Mexican government there. "We intend to remain open for a future of
continuing vigorous debate, research and education."

The university said Mr. Calderon, who got a master's degree from
Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2000, is a
well-known alumnus and a natural fit. Spokesman Doug Gavel said the
former president was highly recommended by a faculty panel and the
university is sticking by its decision.

Mr. Calderon also has defenders in Mexico, too. Tatiana Clouthier, a
political commentator and former member of Mr. Calderon's Conservative
Party, wrote in an editorial: "What's sad is people don't see the good
he's done, for all the recent bloodshed and pain."

Mexican presidents have a long history of going abroad, even to
teaching jobs, after rocky times at home following their presidencies.
Ernesto Zedillo was widely scorned by his party after he spearheaded
electoral reforms that broke its seven decades of rule when his
presidency finished in 2000. He decamped to Yale University. His
predecessor, Carlos Salinas, dogged by corruption scandals, went into
a self-imposed exile in Ireland; he has since returned to Mexico.

Some critics of Mr. Calderon's appointment say the former president
still owes Mexicans answers on casualties. Throughout his term, Mr.
Calderon said that 90% of the dead were criminals caught in
internecine fighting. But prosecutors said they left large numbers of
cases uninvestigated.

During his last year, Mr. Calderon refused to disclose the number of
drug-related deaths.

Some critics also say the military carried out human-rights abuses in
pursuing drug gangs, including torture and disappearances. More than
7,000 complaints have been filed with Mexico's government ombudsman,
alleging crimes from robbery to killings by soldiers; several dozen
soldiers were convicted of crimes during Mr. Calderon's term in the
military's own courts. The military says it is investigating others.

"For Harvard to give him this position is for them to be openly
backing his policies-which created nothing but disaster for Mexicans
during the six years," said Eduardo Cortes, who owns a construction
firm in Puebla and started one of the online petitions.

Sergio Aguayo, a left-leaning academic who wrote the open letter to
Harvard, complained that Mexicans still lack closure on the more than
25,000 disappearances which remain unsolved during his term. He said
he hoped that his successor Mr. Pena Nieto will get to the bottom of
what happened to these people.

Mr. Aguayo stopped short of asking Harvard to disinvite Mr. Calderon.
"We're just looking for better answers on why he was chosen," he said.

The dispute highlights the extent to which Mr. Calderon has become the
public face of Mexico's battle against drug gangs-which existed long
before he took power in 2006. Even Mexico's new President Enrique Pena
Nieto has tried to distance himself from some of his predecessor's
strategies since taking office last month, promising to reduce the
country's homicides and violent crime.

Steven Levitsky, a Harvard government professor, said the Kennedy
School has made some mistakes when dealing with Latin American
leaders. In the 1990s, it allowed Guatemalan Gen. Hector Gramajo to
study for a master's degree. Mr. Gramajo was accused of torture by
human-rights groups and his U.S. visa was eventually revoked.

But Mr. Levitsky said it was ridiculous to put Mr. Calderon in the
same category as the military leaders that waged war against political
opponents, when Mr. Calderon's fight was directed squarely at crime
groups threatening the rule of law. "No one considers Calderon to be
an extremist," Mr. Levitsky said.
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