Mexican president at Harvard: Governing means making tough choices, no matter political costs

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Wednesday his government has been striving to achieve long-term goals regardless of the political costs.

"There are no big changes that do not imply costs. In public service you have to be prepared to pay these costs," he said, according to a copy of the speech he prepared for the graduation ceremony at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The president said he was "satisfied that we have bet on profound change in Mexico."

"We have carried out reforms that were ignored for decades because of various political interests," he said.

Calderon said public service is about making choices.

"The most difficult and the most common thing in government is to have to choose only between two bad alternatives, not bad alternatives because they are bad per se, but bad alternatives because they imply costs and downsides that you don't want to face," he said. "This is unpleasant, but often it is the kind of decision that determines the future of a society."

Calderon said his fight against drug cartels, which has touched off violence that has killed at least 22,700 people since he took office in December 2006, is an example of a difficult decision.

"We had to decide whether to confront the criminals who had been ignored for decades," he said. "We could have left them alone to increase their power and influence, allowing them to take over towns and communities and threaten the people living there. Instead, we decided to face them and pay the cost in terms of time, economic resources and, unfortunately, human lives."

He said the drug war was weakening criminals' capabilities while strengthening and modernizing the Mexican judicial and security systems. He said it also was "building the future of liberty, security and freedom that our families deserve."

"Fighting criminals," he said, "we made the best decision."

After his speech, Calderon planned to meet with the 14 Mexicans who were among the day's 550 graduates, his office said.