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Mexico’s President-elect Hits the Ground Running

In the lead-up to tomorrow’s inauguration, Enrique Peña Nieto and his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) have crafted a number of legislative proposals they hope will set the tone for his six years in Mexico’s highest office.  Three key initiatives are now pending debate before the lower chamber.

First is an initiative to fold the nation’s Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (Public Security Secretariat—SSP) into the interior ministry.  Second is a move to strengthen the nation’s Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información(Federal Institute for Access to Public Information—IFAI).  And third is an initiative to create a national anti-corruption commission.

According to Peña Nieto’s transition team, national security and public safety need higher central authority.  Analysts note that under Presidents Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), SSP ran roughshod over the government, many times trampling over the attorney general and ignoring human and procedural rights.  Examples often cited are the televised capture of French kidnapper Florence Cassez, which caused a deluge of human rights complains against the SSP and strained Mexico’s relationship with France, and the unexplained September shooting of two U.S. Central Intelligence Agency agents outside Mexico City by Mexican Federal Police.

Not all failed at the SSP, however.  Federal Police numbers increased to 36,000, up from 6,000 in 2006—including more recruits with university degrees and criminal investigation backgrounds.  Plataforma Mexico, the nation’s go-to criminal database that connects more than 900 municipal, state and federal agencies to more than 500 million criminal leads and records, was also a positive step in the fight against organized crime.  Not least of all, SSP was also responsible for the capture of more than 3,000 organized crime figures and freed close to 2,000 kidnap victims.            

Still, the SSP operated at the leisure of the president, using organized crime as a pretense for answering only to the head of state.  In the process, mistakes were made, agents compromised, ranks infiltrated—and Congress, criminal procedure, human rights, and the Supreme Court were ignored.  The president-elect wants to rewrite Mexico’s model for fighting crime and is returning to the PRI model for police work.   

The second and third pieces of legislation seek to strengthen the IFAI and to create a national anti-corruption commission.  Since 2000, mayors and governors have used newly-acquired powers to dig Mexico’s city and state finances further into the red.  Coahuila’s more than 300 percent rise in state debt in recent years is a prime example, as are Michoacán and Nuevo León’s 200 percent debt increases.  According to the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (Mexican Institute for CompetitivenessIMCO), two of every three pesos used by state administrators went for staff salaries, while only one was invested in state programs.  The trend is unsustainable. 

Currently, legal cases have been filed by newly-sworn-in mayors against ex-mayors from the states of Jalisco, Guerrero and Queretaro.  Many more are expected.  In the case of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco, Mayor Ramón Guerrero says debt rose from $30 million to $300 million in recent years.  He is suing former mayor Francisco González for illicit use of public funds, fraud and abuse of power.  

These states—and many more cities and municipalities—are unable to meet payroll, let alone fund government programs.  

Proposed legislation will force state and municipal entities to put on display administrative and operational costs, as well as proposed borrowing schemes, all in an effort to discourage fraudulent use of public finances which often pad individuals and pump campaign coffers.          

The proposed anti-corruption commission will have legal autonomy with seven Senate-approved commissioners who serve seven-year terms.  Included are the powers to investigate and sanction public officials, private companies and individuals who misuse public funds.

Peña Nieto’s team has taken the time—and political effort—to think big about Mexico’s technical and tactical challenges.  Corruption and organized crime are obviously on top of the list.  Though it is safe to say change is difficult and painful, we can only hope these recalibrations help bring the type of change Peña Nieto and the PRI promised.       

*Juan Manuel Henao is a consultant based in Mexico City and former Mexico Country Director for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington DC-based not-for-profit democracy promotion organization.

Tags: Enrique Peña Nieto, Partido Revolucionario Institucional


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