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Enrique Peña Nieto Takes the Long-Awaited Oath

December 2, 2012

by Juan Manuel Henao

The road to the presidency for Enrique Peña Nieto started long before he won the Mexico State governorship in 2005. His uncle Arturo Montiel proceeded Nieto in the governor’s mansion (1999-2005) and cousin Alfredo del Mazo González ruled the state (1981-1986) and served as secretary of energy in the remaining years of President Miguel de la Madrid´s term (1982-1988). Politics always surrounded Nieto and ultimately, his relationships, friendships and extended family allowed for a thoughtful, long-term, strategy that culminated in his election to become Mexico´s 66th president.

After 12 years in hiatus, the the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party - PRI) returns to Los Pinos.

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Protests, the Oath and Biden

Thousands of riot police protected the area surrounding the nation´s lower chamber where Nieto was due to take the oath before noon on Saturday. As noted in a previous article, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and his newly-founded Morena movement promised protests throughout Mexico. They did not disappoint. Morena, along with youth movement #Yosoy132, started early, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails against security walls erected around the chamber to protect Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón.

Near the National Palace where Nieto later delivered his inaugural speech, protestors hurled rocks at police and used metal and wooden sticks to break hotel and restaurant windows. A store was looted and public bus vandalized. Several youth protesters were arrested and more than two dozen police were treated for minor wounds and respiratory conditions related to smoke and tear gas inhalation.

Special recognition should be given to the many unarmed Federal and Mexico City riot police who kept calm and tried to prevent further damage to public and private property and uninvolved citizens in the face of violent protestors. In previous eras, these types of protests would not have been tolerated.

Inside the chamber, an unsatisfied Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution— PRD), Partido de Trabajadores (Labor Party – PT) and Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens´ Movement – MC) tried to prevent the naming of a special committee to escort Nieto into the deputies chamber by calling points of order. In response, PRI deputies quickly took over the speaker´s rostrum, only to desist after opposition forces said they too would take over the speaker´s rostrum if PRI deputies refused to step down.

Still, PRD, PT and MC succeeded in placing a long black banner along one of the walls of the lower chamber criticizing Nieto. These opposition deputies waived posters criticizing Nieto and Calderón as they entered the deputies chamber.

In his final act, Felipe Calderón kissed the presidential sash and handed it to the president of the deputies chamber. Nieto was given the sash and took his oath in the midst of shouts by a very small number of opposition deputies. Just like his equivalent in the U.S., Nieto forgot to utter three words while taking the constitutional oath. He stood to receive applause, walked down the aisle to shake hands, then left to deliver his inaugural speech.

The New Cabinet

Nieto named strong multi-party technocrats with proven political and negotiation skills to his new cabinet. The inclusion of all three skill-sets is something new in Mexican politics and follows the way of public image, Tweeter, YouTube, Facebook and the 24-hour news cycle.

The most important of all the new ministers is Miguel Osorio Chong who will lead the Ministry of the Interior. The minister and ministry serve as the president´s right hand, coordinating government policy and political agreements with Congress, governors and mayors; and ensures the execution of the president´s orders. More importantly, Chong will have the difficult task of coordinating the 36,000 strong Federal Police and military in the fight against organized crime. In this latter task, he will answer directly to the president and public opinion as soon as any of these elements commit human rights abuses or fail to abate criminals.

Assisting Chong in this task are retired Colombian General Oscar Naranjo and Manuel Mondragon. Naranjo, who crafted the strategy that ended Pablo Escobar´s criminal career, will serve as an outside advisor on organized crime to President Nieto. Mondragon, who since 2008 led the Mexico City police for PRD mayor Marcelo Ebrard, will lead the interior ministry´s new office of the Under-Secretary for Public Safety and Institutional Planning.

In a sign of respect to the PAN, and sign of continuity to the U.S. and other foreign governments, Jose Meade moves from the treasury ministry to lead Mexico´s foreign secretariat. This is no doubt a positive sign for international markets and the many multinationals that have interests in Mexico. It is also a positive sign for the many countries—mainly Colombia and the U.S.—that are providing technical assistance to Mexico in its war against organized crime.

Last, Nieto´s long-time friend, collaborator and confidant Luis Videgaray was named treasury secretary. Videgaray served as Nieto´s Secretary of Finance in Mexico state and coordinated Nieto´s campaign for president. The MIT Doctorate in economics will have the president´s ear and help maintain a stable peso as the world economy readies for a possible downturn in 2013.

For the moment, Mexico´s foreign policy, economy and public security seem to be in capable and seasoned hands.

The Inaugural Speech

At the historic National Palace—amid generals with decorations and gold stars and civilians in Sunday’s best—1,500 guests including representatives of 101 nations stood by to hear President Enrique Peña Nieto. In plain view were the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Peru, and the Vice President of the U.S. Earlier, vehicles carrying U.S. Ambassador Anthony Wayne and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson were prevented from entering the palace as Vice President Joe Biden made his way into the building. The blunder was soon fixed.

Nieto delivered an uplifting speech, wishing to rid Mexicans´ anguish over the possibility of continued political wrangling between the chief executive and Congress. Mexico in peace; an inclusive Mexico; better public education; a prosperous Mexico; and an active role for Mexico in world affairs were general speech themes.

Nieto spoke at length about a transformation for Mexico and making government efficient. He pledged to make Mexico´s streets, roads and public spaces safe for all Mexicans—and said “justice and inclusion” are the underlying tenets of his policy to make life better for all Mexicans, especially those in poverty, for Mexico´s mothers and youth.

He also informed the nation of his first executive orders. Among them:

  • A nation-wide prevention program to prevent youth from falling into a life of crime and drugs.
  • National march against hunger. President Nieto has asked the Social Development secretary to coordinate the Church, private sector, civil society, and municipal and state government within 60 days to aid in the eradication of hunger throughout Mexico.
  • A new entitlement program labeled Seguro de Vida para Jefa de Familias (Life Insurance for Female Head of Households) to support Mexico´s mothers with cash transfer until their children graduate from high school; and
  • Expansion of the 70 Plus program to give Mexico´s elderly further financial and medical assistance. In addition, he pledged to send a law to Congress to professionalize Mexico´s public education system. The law will seek to improve teacher quality and accountability, and eradicate the rampant corruption currently in play at Mexico´s Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Syndicate for Education Workers – SNTE). The news drew applause, and will definitely be a difficult task given the long winning streak by the SNTE against Congress, presidents and public pressure.

Infrastructure also had an important place in Nieto´s speech. Roads and highways to connect southern Mexico to the world economy were promised, as were projects to provide modern trains and rail lines to connect Mexico´s main cities and alleviate traffic problems.

As the president delivered the speech, one could not help wonder where he will get the cash needed to provide for campaign promises and the many programs being announced during his inaugural speech.

Conservative estimates have Nieto requiring an additional $800 billion per year to meet campaign promises alone.

Money aside, Nieto will also need serious negotiators and divine help from Mexico´s patron saint—La Virgen de Guadalupe—to accomplish his many goals. A galvanized left, calculating right and powerful SNTE will not grant the new president everything he wants without compromise and concessions.

Many, I included, praise Mexico´s democracy, its alternance and its newly found political tolerance. The nation should be praised for its political order and the way its political parties have conducted hard-fought, competitive elections across the nation for 12 years.

In closing, President Enrique Peña Nieto said Mexico sits at “history´s door”. He asked for all Mexicans to believe in themselves, to have confidence in what they can all become, and to move everything—people, beliefs and obstacles—to transform the nation.

As his wife and six children joined the gathering in applause, I too applauded. I wish him well and luck; he will need both to move Mexico forward.

*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.

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