Tag Archives: calderon

Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)
Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was elected in July 2012 to great fanfare, so it was almost certain that his administration would fall well short of expectations.Mexico Flag Icon

In the leadup to that 2012 presidential election, Peña Nieto spent so many years as such a heavy frontrunner he was practically Mexico’s president-in-waiting. When he ultimately won the presidency by a margin of around 6.5%, it was less than polls predicted, but still the largest margin of victory in a presidential election since 1994. With movie star looks and a bona-fide star for a wife in Angélica Rivera, a model and telenovela actress, his victory was a triumph not only for himself, but for his party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party), which lost the presidency in 2000 after seven decades of consecutive rule in Mexico and that spent a difficult decade shut out of executive power at the national level. In Peña Nieto, the telegenic former governor of the state of Mexico, with over 15 million people, by far the largest in the country and the surrounding state of Mexico’s central federal district.

* * * * *

RELATED: For El Paso-Juárez,
Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

* * * * *

When he rose to the presidency, Peña Nieto was widely expected to do just two things as the face of what Mexican voters believed to be a reformed and a modernizing PRI.

First, Peña Nieto would enact a range of reforms liberalizing everything from Mexico’s energy sector to its tax collections scheme. Second, Peña Nieto would bring peace to a country roiled by drug violence, lethal competition among drug cartel and what seemed like an increasingly self-defeating militarized response to drug violence by Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón, of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party).

On both fronts, Peña Nieto fell short of expectations.

While Mexico might today be more becalmed than in 2012, violence and government incompetence have dominated headlines. Peña Nieto’s presidency will forever be marred by the abduction and assassination of 43 students in Iguala by police officers in Guerrero state in September 2014. The glory of his government’s capture in 2014 of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the leader of the infamous Sinaloa cartel, was soon eclipsed by his escape from a maximum-security prison in 2015, and Guzmán, recaptured seven months later, now faces extradition to the United States.

Peña Nieto’s presidency has been a mix of the good (significant political and economic reforms), the bad (corruption, impunity at the highest level of the PRI and his own administration and ineptitude in the face of cartel strength) and the ugly (the Iguala massacre).

By most measures, though, his performance has been far worse than many observers expected, with less impressive reforms than promised and a legacy of sporadic drug violence, police brutalization, personal conflict-of-interest scandals and continuing widespread corruption at all levels of government. That’s all on top of a Mexican economy struggling to deal with far lower global prices for oil and other commodities. It’s so bad that his approval rating sank earlier this month to just 23%, lower than any Mexican president since Ernesto Zedillo faced an acute peso crisis in the mid-1990s.

In the July 2015 midterm elections, the PRI lost nine seats in the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Mexican congress, and in the June 2016 gubernatorial elections, the PRI lost power in states it’s held since 1929 — including Veracruz, Tamaulipas Durango and Quintana Roo.

Just this week, as he prepares to deliver his state of the union address on Thursday, Peña Nieto has faced down embarrassing revelations that he plagiarized much of the thesis that he submitted for his law degree. Earlier this month, his wife faced fresh accusations of a new conflicts-of-interest scandal involving the use of a luxury apartment from a Mexican businessman in Miami.

So as the Mexican president prepares to welcome Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for an unexpected private meeting on Wednesday, it’s no understatement that Mexico’s beleaguered president could use a diversion. With his approval ratings so low, though, Trump presents an easy target. Continue reading Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Two years in, Iguala massacre threatens Peña Nieto presidency

Guest post by Christopher Skutnik
EPNguerreroPhoto credit to NTX.

When he was elected in July 2012 in a relative landslide, Enrique Peña Nieto thought his administration would be defined by good governance and economic, tax and energy reforms.Mexico Flag Icon

Above all, everyone thought that Peña Nieto would be eager to demonstrate the new look of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party), which controlled Mexico’s presidency between 1929 and 2000, with the rise of a younger generation of technocratic cabinet members, including Luis Videgaray, EPN’s finance minister.

On the second anniversary of his inauguration, however, Peña Nieto (pictured above visiting Guerrero in 2013) faces the risk of losing the narrative of his presidency with four years left in office — following the September killings of 43 university students, reminiscent of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre that is widely seen as one of the lowest points of the PRI’s 20th century rule.

So what happened in Iguala?

guerreroPhoto credit to BBC.

It’s no understatement to say that Mexicans everywhere have been touched by the incredible display of violence and governmental corruption that took place on September 26, when 43 students were abducted and, allegedly, assassinated in the town of Cocula, near Iguala, the third-largest city in Guerrero state.

The office of Mexican attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam has determined that Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca ordered local police to confront the students, since he was worried that they would disrupt an important political event at which his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, was scheduled to speak.

With what appears to the approval of Iguala police chief Felipe Flores Velásquez, local officers apparently ambushed the students, (killing 6 outright), and abducted 43 more. A further 14 students successfully escaped, and were later located safely.

According to officials, Cocula’s police chief, Cesar Nava Gonzalez, ordered police to transfer the 43 captives to a local gang called Guerreros Unidos, to which Nava Gonzalez apparently belonged. The gang members then allegedly transported the students to a landfill, murdered them, burned their bodies, and dumped their remains in a local river.

The sad tale, however, becomes even more ridiculous upon further review. Los Angeles Pineda, the mayor’s wife, is allegedly known as ‘Lady Iguala’ and, along with her two brothers (both of whom were assassinated by rival gangs) was tightly connected to the Guerreros Unidos gang. Circumstantially, it appears that she used her position to leverage a considerable amount of wealth, as well as intervene on behalf of her gang. Continue reading Two years in, Iguala massacre threatens Peña Nieto presidency

What’s going on in Michoacán?

Michoacán tattoo

Even as Enrique Peña Nieto basks in a largely successful first year as president, capped off with a massive energy reform that will introduce elements of privatization and foreign investment to Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the state oil company, and the first step of tax reform that will raise VAT of junk food and sodas, Mexicans aren’t sure that his administration is making the same progress on security. michuocanMexico Flag Icon

Nowhere is that more true than in Michoacán.

A sprawling Pacific state that unfurls from the western Mexican coast inland nearly to the capital of México City, Michoacán wasn’t necessarily predestined to become a synonym of drug-fueled anarchy.  It’s not home to the Zapatista-style insurgency that former president Ernesto Zedillo faced in Chiapas in the mid-1990s, the destabilizing political protests that former president Vicente Fox faced in Oaxaca in 2006, or to the horrific body counts in Ciudad Juárez and elsewhere in Chihuahua that dominated gory headlines just a few years ago during the presidency of Felipe Calderón.

michoacan Continue reading What’s going on in Michoacán?

Pope-acabana: How the Catholic Church and the Latin American middle class could forge a symbiotic electoral majority


Although Pope Francis made global headlines last month by appearing to accept that some priests might have same-sex attractions, it’s easy to forget that the comments, which came at a press conference on his flight back to the Vatican, capped the new pope’s first trip abroad to Brazil, which neighbors former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s native Argentina.vatican flagbrazil

Francis’s comments touched on a wide range of issues, including the role of women in the Catholic Church, but his remarks risk overshadowing that the pontiff’s visit to Brazil, where Francis delivered a mass to three million Brazilians on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, had already been viewed as a massive success, and showcased that Francis is determined to lead a global Church.

What does all of this have to do with Latin American politics?

First, after the perceived hardline doctrinal conservatism of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, the new pope is certainly more media-savvy about communicating that the Catholic Church will be more open than it’s been perceived in previous years.  Francis may not necessarily be any more doctrinally liberal about social issues like homosexuality, abortion or birth control, but his tone, warm and unjudging, is much different.  The fine print may not even matter if Francis downplays more contentious doctrine in favor of issues of more relevance to economic policymaking.  Even though one of Benedict XVI’s three encyclicals covered the topic of the virtue of social justice and the dangers of global development (Caritas in Veritate — ‘Charity in Truth’), published in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, it is instead Francis who has been credited as the pope willing to take the Church’s teachings into the most dangerous corners of the world and to the poorest in society.  Francis has spoken out against poverty repeatedly since his election as pope earlier this year and while in Brazil, he toured Varginha, one of Rio’s most notoriously poor and violent favelas.

Secondly, the Catholic Church, which has long been a global church (one out of two Catholics worldwide now lives in the Americas, and three-fourths of the world’s Catholics live outside Europe), now has a truly global leader.   Continue reading Pope-acabana: How the Catholic Church and the Latin American middle class could forge a symbiotic electoral majority

Meet José Mujica, the Uruguayan president who’s on the path to legalizing marijuana


Although Uruguay’s austere president José Mujica grows chrysanthemums with his wife in his humble home outside Montevideo in his spare time, that’s not the kind of flower power that’s catapulted him to global headlines this week.uruguay

Instead, he’s moved forward, surpassing a key hurdle in making Uruguay, the Southern Cone nation of 3.3 million, the first country in the world to decriminalize and regulate the sale and purchase of marijuana when the lower house of Uruguay’s parliament, the Cámara de Representantes (Chamber of Representatives) passed a legalization bill by a narrow 50-46 margin late Wednesday, which will allow the bill to sail smoothly through the upper house and to enactment.

Far from transforming Uruguay into a drug haven, however, Simon Romero, writing for The New York Times, explains the highly regulated nature of what will become the Uruguayan marijuana market, which would place strict limits on the growth, use and sale of the drug:

Under the bill, which could become law as early as this month, people would be allowed to grow marijuana in their homes, limited to six plants per household. They would also be permitted to form cooperatives allowed to cultivate 99 plants. In addition, private companies could grow marijuana under the bill, though their harvests could be bought only by the government, which would market the drug in licensed pharmacies.

To buy marijuana in pharmacies, Uruguayans would be required to enter their names into a federal registry, which is intended to remain confidential, and would be limited to buying 40 grams per month. And in a move to prevent foreign tourists from flocking to Uruguay to smoke marijuana, the legislation would restrict legal purchases to Uruguayans. Marijuana use is already largely tolerated by the Uruguayan authorities.

As remarkable as it seems, and despite international criticism of the Uruguayan measure, it was only a matter of time before a Latin American country takes the step to legalize the drug.  Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina, neither of whom are exactly left-wing ideologues have both made strident calls for marijuana legalization, and other Latin American leaders, such as former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, have called into question the longstanding U.S. anti-drug policy that’s launched a 40-year ‘War on Drugs’ that turned out to become more a war on Latin America, wreaking havoc and escalating violence from México to Perú.  Even within the United States, public opinion is turning away from criminalization — California’s ‘medical’ marijuana industry is booming and voters in Washington and Colorado elected in November 2012 to legalize marijuana in those states.


What’s even more remarkable is the rise of the Uruguayan president who’s likely to be the first to make it happen.  In a region with sometimes eccentric leaders, the 78-year old Mujica — or as he’s affectionately known among Uruguayos, ‘Pepe’ — stands out.

A former leftist guerrilla in the Tupamaros movement, Mujica spent much of Uruguay’s military government that spanned the 1970s and early 1980s in prison.  As Romero writes in a profile of Mujica for The Times earlier this year, prison life was about as grim as imaginable for the one-time rebel fighter:

He spent 14 years in prison, including more than a decade in solitary confinement, often in a hole in the ground. During that time, he would go more than a year without bathing, and his companions, he said, were a tiny frog and rats with whom he shared crumbs of bread.

The sometimes violent tactics of the Tupamaros, which drew its inspiration from Fidel Castro’s Cuban guerrilla effort, weren’t without controversy.  But though he rarely discusses those days, his wife, Lucía Topolansky, is also a former Tupamaro, and while he has long since eschewed the more radical elements of his past, he has retained a strikingly humble approach to material wealth.  Mujica, who drives himself in a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, has been labeled by the BBC to label him as ‘the world’s poorest president’:

President Mujica has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife’s farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo.  The president and his wife work the land themselves, growing flowers.  This austere lifestyle – and the fact that Mujica donates about 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity – has led him to be labelled the poorest president in the world.

As president, he has presided over a strong economy, though the GDP growth rate has fallen from 8.9% in 2010 to 5.7% in 2011 and an estimated 3.5% in 2012 — a slowing growth rate, yes, but one that’s consistently overperformed Brazil’s GDP growth in the past three years, one that is now overperforming the increasingly troubled Argentine economy, and one that would make the United States or the European Union feel like it’s experiencing an economic boom.  Mujica has been an aggressive champion of freer trade, and for expanding Mercosur, the South American free trade bloc.  He’s also a proponent of wind and other forms of renewable energy, and he’s a tireless booster of Uruguay exports, half of which are agricultural products, notably beef and grain products.

But his real legacy, even before the push for marijuana legalization, has been on social policy.  Yesterday, for example, Uruguay’s same-sex marriage act took effect after the Chamber of Deputies passed the law on an 81-6 vote last December.  He’s also signed legislation legalizing abortion restrictions.  But while those measures had broad popular appeals, polls have shown that up to two-thirds of Uruguayan voters are wary of legalizing marijuana.

As Uruguayan presidents cannot run for consecutive terms in office, much of Mujica’s devil-may-care approach to controversial issues, especially drug legalization, lies in the fact that he’s not running for reelection.  But it’s also in keeping with his honest, everyman persona, which has afforded him broad popularity, even among his critics. That popularity has made it easier for Mujica to champion unpopular issues, just as it has made it easier to deflect the loquacious president’s gaffes, such as when he was caught on tape disparaging both Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner: ‘esta vieja es peor que el tuerto,‘ which roughly translates to ‘the old woman is worse than the cross-eyed one.’

But unlike the Kirchners, who have hewn a relatively populist neo-Peronista course for Argentina, which remains shut out of global capital markets, and unlike other leftists like the late Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Mujica has been firmly on the lulista left, and like former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, he’s spent his political career moving from leftist roots — even more radical than Lula’s trade union roots in Brazil — to the political center.  Continue reading Meet José Mujica, the Uruguayan president who’s on the path to legalizing marijuana

Why the PAN’s victory in Baja California is good news for Mexican democracy

Kiko Vega

Francisco ‘Kiko’ Vega de Lamadrid has emerged as the winner of Sunday’s gubernatorial election in the Mexican state of Baja California, giving the conservative Mexican opposition a major boost in a high-profile election a year after its crushing defeat in the July 2012 Mexican presidential election.baja californiaMexico Flag Icon

Vega (pictured above), a former Tijuana mayor, a Mexican congressman from 2009 to 2012, and a former finance secretary of Baja California in the late 1990s, led an electoral coalition dominated by the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party).  Initial results showed Vega having won around 47.15% of the vote to just 44.15% for Fernando Castro Trenti, the candidate of the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party).

That means not only that Vega will be the sixth consecutive PAN governor of Baja California, but that the PAN will continue to hold onto one of the party’s most symbolic strongholds a year after the PRI’s young and photogenic Enrique Peña Nieto won the Mexican presidency, giving the PAN a boost after a year of infighting and internal distractions.  A PAN loss in Baja California would have been nothing short of a complete disaster for the party and for its current leader, Gustavo Madero.

The entire peninsula of Baja California is technically divided into two states — Baja California and Baja California Sur  — and the state’s population of around 3.3 million means that it’s not among México’s largest states.

But there are a lot of reasons why Baja California is nonetheless an important state in Mexican politics.

One obvious reason is its proximity to the United States.  The sprawling border cities of Mexicali and Tijuana have been focal points of  migration of workers and products, both legal and illicit, from México to the United States, for decades at a time when U.S. policy is focused on immigration reform.  Both the peninsula and the state are among the most popular tourist destinations for U.S. citizens drawn to Baja’s beachfront bounty — although foreigners can hold 50-year interests in Mexican property in trust, foreigners are still banned from owning beachfront property in Baja California under laws dating back to the Mexican Revolution, despite recent legislation to ease property restrictions.

But Baja California also plays an important role in the development of Mexican democracy — it was in Baja California that a Mexican opposition party first won a gubernatorial race after decades of PRI dominance in what had been México’s one-party state since the 1920s.  When the PAN’s candidate, a young local businessman named Ernesto Ruffo Appel, won the July 1989 gubernatorial race, then-president Carlos Salinas acknowledged the PRI’s defeat on election night, thereby propelling the PAN to its first major shot at power in Mexican history.

It’s not difficult to draw a direct line from that night to ever greater milestones for Mexican democracy — the 1992 elections that saw the PAN win further gubernatorial victories; the 1997 elections that brought the leftist opposition Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD, Party of the Democratic Revolution) to power in the Distrito Federal, where the PRD has essentially governed México City ever since; and, of course, the 2000 presidential election that delivered the Mexican presidency to the PAN’s Vicente Fox.

Though Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderón, followed him to the presidency in 2006, the PAN’s 12-year hold on the Mexican presidency collapsed after Peña Nieto’s victory, which followed a decade-long project of rebranding the PRI’s role in a 21st century, multi-party democratic México.  The PAN’s candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, finished far behind Peña Nieto with just 25% of the vote and weakened by internal disputes within the PAN, despite the historic nature of her candidacy — Vázquez Mota was the first female major-party candidate for the Mexican presidency.

Vega’s victory gives the PAN something to celebrate and an opportunity to pivot from the nadir of its 2012 effort and the ensuing internal squabbling that’s followed, which ultimately bodes well for balancing México’s various political forces in advance of over a dozen gubernatorial races in 2014 and midterm congressional elections in 2015.

The victory also boosts Peña Nieto’s national agenda, the so-called Pacto for México among all three parties in the Mexican Congress, where no party holds an absolute majority of seats — the PRI actually lost 30 seats in the lower house, the Cámara de Diputados, in last year’s simultaneous legislative elections.  Peña Nieto is planning to push for tax and energy sector reform in coming months, and he’ll need the PAN’s support in order to carry out those reforms, especially given the Mexican left’s suspicion of any moves toward private investment in Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico’s state-owned oil company.

That’s because the PAN’s victory will, for the time being, steady Madero’s leadership, who signed the Pacto with Peña Nieto earlier this year.  Although Calderón himself pushed for tax reform last decade (it was blocked by the PRD and the PRI at the time) and both reforms are largely in line with the PAN’s free-market economic views, the Pacto has divided Mexico’s conservatives, who were already split between maderistas and calderonistas (today, corderistas)  following the December 2012 election for the PAN’s presidency between Madero and Ernesto Cordero, a longtime Calderón loyalist and former Calderón finance minister.

In May, Madero demoted Cordero, who has been more skeptical about the Pacto, from his role as the PAN’s caucus leader in the Senato, the Mexican Congress’s upper house.  Cordero, a longtime Calderón loyalist, has been more pessimistic about the Pacto than Madero or Santiago Creel, also a senator and formerly Fox’s interior minister.  Both Cordero and Creel contested the PAN’s 2012 presidential primary against Vázquez Mota, and all three politicians plus Madero could seek the presidency in 2018.

Continue reading Why the PAN’s victory in Baja California is good news for Mexican democracy

World leaders descend upon Chávez funeral: one photo, but mil palabras


What’s always been so interesting about chavismo is the way that the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez managed to build alliances both with just about every leader in Latin America, no matter how radical or moderate, while also building close alliances with a ‘who’s who’ of world rogue leaders on poor terms with the United States of America.Venezuela Flag Icon

It makes for an interesting set of photos from Chávez’s funeral — the photo above comes from the Facebook feed of Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of México, a country that’s had relatively little use for Venezuela over the past 14 years — former president Felipe Calderón used Chávez as a boogeyman in the 2006 Mexican presidential election to warn voters against the one-time leftist frontrunner, former Mexican City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and that may have made the difference in that election.

Chávez died Tuesday in Caracas after a long fight with cancer, suddenly bringing to life Venezuelan politics that had largely been frozen in waiting on Chávez’s health since his 11-point reelection in October 2012.

Peña Nieto was expected to move Mexican relations closer to Venezuela than under the more right-wing Calderón, but Peña Nieto and Chávez were hardly best friends.  That relationship was part and parcel of the diverse set of relationships that Chávez had with the rest of Latin America — sometimes ally, sometimes foil, sometimes donor and often, all three simultaneously.  Those relationships, all of which are on display this week in Caracas, give us a rough sense of whether chavismo — and the broader form of the populist, socialist left that has been on the rise in Latin America (though not necessarily in its largest, most economically successful, countries like México and Brazil) — will live beyond Chávez.

Peña Nieto is in the fourth row, standing between businessman Ricardo Martinelli, Panama’s conservative president to his left and Peruvian president Ollanta Humala to his right.  Humala, who won a very close election in 2011 in Perú, was feared as a potential chavista radical leftist, anathema to Peru’s business elite, despite renouncing a chavista-style government in Perú.  In fact, Humala has turned out to govern as a business-friendly moderate, garnering relatively more criticism from environmentalists and social activists on the left since his election.

There in the front row, you can see Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Cuba’s president Raúl Castro (who has the distinction of belonging to both the ‘rogue state’ and ‘Latin American’ groups), the new ‘acting’ first lady of Venezuela Cilia Flores, and her husband, acting president Nicolás Maduro. Continue reading World leaders descend upon Chávez funeral: one photo, but mil palabras

How U.S. immigration reform might affect México


The last time the United States seriously contemplated immigration reform, it was also immediately after the inauguration of a new Mexican president — Vicente Fox, a business-friendly conservative whose Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) came to power for the first time in 69 years, ousting the long-governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).Mexico Flag IconUSflag

That was 12 years ago, and this time, the PRI has returned to Los Pinos with a new president — Enrique Peña Nieto.

While Peña Nieto’s administration moves forward with tax reform and business-friendly reforms of the Mexican labor and energy markets — all of which the PAN will likely support — his approach to pending U.S. immigration reform couldn’t be more different from Fox’s.

Fox came to office alongside U.S. president George W. Bush, and both had high hopes for U.S.-Mexican relations — after all, both were conservative reformers and former governors (Fox in Guanajuato in the industrial north of México and Bush in Texas along the Mexican border) with larger-than-life personalities and cowboy boots to match.  So observers on both sides of the border believed their personal chemistry and simpatico views would actually bring about a new era in bilateral good feeling.

Fox’s major address before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, marking a turning point in Mexican-American relations, in fact, came on September 6, 2001.

What happened five days later would turn the Bush administration’s attention far from México, except for security concerns with respect to potential terrorists crossing into the United States, despite Fox’s vigorous and active campaign throughout the rest of his six-year term, and thereafter, for the United States to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

This time around, net migration from México has slowed from a burst of migration activity to net zero migration, according to Pew Research’s Hispanic Center, ending or even reversing a decades-long trend:

The U.S. today has more immigrants from México alone—12.0 million—than any other country in the world has from all countries of the world.  Some 30% of all current U.S. immigrants were born in México. The next largest sending country—China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan)—accounts for just 5% of the nation’s current stock of about 40 million immigrants.

The relatively bleaker economic conditions over the past four years in the United States have much to do with the sharp decline, but there are other reasons, too — optimism over a Mexican economy that’s growing so rapidly that it is set to overtake Brazil’s economy as the largest in Latin America in the 2020s, and a half-century of declining Mexican birth rates.

Given that Fox’s approach fell flat, and in light of the relatively fewer gains for Mexican migrants north of the border a decade later, Peña Nieto’s approach has been decidedly less hands-on:

In a joint appearance, Peña Nieto told Obama that Mexicans “fully support” the idea of immigration reform but said, “More than demanding what you should do or shouldn’t do, we do want to tell you that we want to contribute. We really want to participate with you.”

Like his predecessor, the PAN-backed Felipe Calderón, Peña Nieto appears to be more interested in working with the United States on security matters, especially at a time when drug-related violence is on the decline in México, and at a crucial time for a new administration that hopes to bring a less confrontational approach to security, focused on reducing violence rather than declaring full-out war against Mexican drug cartels.

The release last week of a ‘bipartisan framework’ from a group of U.S. senators, however, makes U.S. reform more likely now than at any time during the Bush administration, meaning that the issue of immigration reform will necessarily take up more space on Peña Nieto’s agenda this year. Continue reading How U.S. immigration reform might affect México

How AMLO’s spinoff movement could help the PRD in Mexico

Since losing the 2012 Mexican presidential election on July 1 to Enrique Peña Nieto, Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been working at every turn to invalidate the result — through mass mobilization of his supporters to a lawsuit (since dismissed) charging wide scale fraud.

López Obrador (known simply as “AMLO” throughout Mexico) came in a surprisingly close second place in July, winning 32% to Peña Nieto’s 38%, and the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) won 140 seats in the Cámara de Diputados, the lower house of the Mexican Congress, an increase of 52 seats for the PRD, which kept Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI) from an absolute majority.  While it is very likely true that the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years from 1929 until 2000, engaged in some amount of fraud, especially in Mexico’s more rural states, some of which have been controlled by the PRI for 80+ years and running — but not the kind of fraud that would make up 6% of the electorate in Latin America’s second-most populous country.

Earlier this month, however, AMLO left the PRD to join forces with the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (MORENA, the National Regeneration Movement), an umbrella group that combines elements of even more leftist forces in Mexico and the #YoSoy132 youth protest movement that notably highlighted the issue of fraud before the election and served (and continues to serve) as a broad anti-PRI bulwark. It seems clear that AMLO is angling to form a second party on the Mexican left in advance of the 2015 legislative midterm elections and the 2018 presidential election — even before Peña Nieto is inaugurated in December!

That could complicate the PRD’s hopes to consolidate its legislative gains in 2015, and it could yet again deny the Mexican left the presidency after decades of bad luck and wrong turns.

AMLO, the former head of government in the Distrito Federal (the position essentially amounts to being the mayor of Mexico City), very narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election to Felipe Calderón, the candidate of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN).  AMLO thereupon accused Calderón of fraud after that election, and he and his supporters set up camp outside the Zócalo in Mexico City for months to protest the result — going so far as to hold a mock inauguration of the ‘legitimate’ president of Mexico.

It’s those demonstrations — and AMLO’s insistence that he should be the PRD’s 2012 presidential candidate instead of outgoing DF head of government Marcelo Ebrard (pictured above) that have attached to him a bit of a narcissistic — even messianic — image.  In the most recent race, AMLO even ran television ads apologizing for his post-2006 demonstrations and pledged to respect the result of the 2012 election.

All of which is to say that, despite the initial fears of a split left in Mexico, and despite a strong core of personal supporters, AMLO’s departure might well be the best thing to happen for the PRD. Continue reading How AMLO’s spinoff movement could help the PRD in Mexico

Impressions of Oaxaca in México’s Peña Nieto era

I have been in Oaxaca this weekend (and will be so until Tuesday of the following week — when Québec votes!) and I wanted to share just a little about what I’ve seen here, and how it colors my perception of Mexican politics.

Oaxaca is the capital of Oaxaca state, which is by and large a student-heavy city (so lots of supporters of the #YoSoy132 movement in opposition to president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) ) in a state that already traditionally supports the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), and its candidate for president in the July 1 election, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  It is also the capital of state that is the most indigenous in all of México– with Zapotec, Mixtec, Mazatec, Chinantec and myriad other groups calling the region their home.  It is the home of México’s sole indigenous president, Benito Juárez, a central figure of 19th century Mexican history.

The backstory is that Oaxaca was the site of a fierce — and deadly — fight between police forces and the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO, or the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca), which emerged after the tense showdown between authorities and a teachers’ union during a strike in Oaxaca in May 2006.  Brutal force by the police during that strike escalated the incident into a full-fledged battle that left Oaxaca, essentially, with a reputation as the Chiapas of the 2000s.  Although the governor at the time, Ulises Ruiz, a PRI governor, left office in 2010, his successor is the PRD-backed Gabino Cué, the first non-PRI governor of Oaxaca in over 80 years, and peace has, more or less, returned to the beautiful city 5,000 meters above sea level.

Nonetheless, and despite the ruling of México’s highest election court that Peña Nieto, has indeed won the election, despite accusations of unfair play from the PRD, I have been struck by the expressions of anti-Peña Nieto grafitti everywhere (see above, and see below, with Carlos Salinas, former PRI president from 1988-1994, ummm, popping out of Peña Nieto’s brain:

And here is Mexico’s president-elect being portrayed as garbage:

It’s understandable that there’s a certain segment of Oaxaca’s population that is significantly opposed to Peña Nieto, given the authoritarian background of the PRI when it was in power for seven decades from 1929 to 2000, but it’s striking that there’s been so little, just two months after the election, in the way of support of López Obrador or of opposition to the current, outgoing Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, whose Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) has held the presidency for the past 12 years.

None of this is to rule out the potential of a Peña Nieto presidency, but it’s a clear signal that he has yet to convince many segments of México’s vast population that he has their interests at heart.

Photo credit to Kevin Lees — Oaxaca, Mexico, September 2012.

Despite likely fraud, AMLO, #YoSoy132 protests seem destined to fail

It’s been over half a month since Enrique Peña Nieto’s victory in the presidential election on July 1, but the protests against the electoral fraud alleged to have been committed by his party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), continue, however haltingly, especially in Mexico City.

Although the street protests are mostly at the impetus of a student protest movement called #YoSoy132 — it’s a long backstory, but think of it as sort of an ‘Occupy Zocalo’ movement, formed to call for greater electoral integrity and the elimination of corruption in Mexican government.  To be fair, the group has kept up a lot of pressure on the PRI both before and now after the election, especially in light of a scandal, revealed by The Guardian, suggesting a too-cozy relationship between Peña Nieto and Televisa, a top television news source in Mexico.

To be sure, it’s great that #YoSoy132 and other watchdogs will be watching the PRI like a hawk.  Notwithstanding its 12 years in the wilderness, it did control Mexico in a semi-authoritarian grip for seven decades (although I have argued that Mexico’s democratic and civil society institutions are sufficiently robust to withstand the PRI’s return to power, and the PRI may succeed where recent presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón have failed — in tax reform, on energy reform and on ending Mexico’s war on drug cartels).

Meanwhile, the runner-up in the July 1 presidential race, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (commonly, “AMLO” in the press), the candidate of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), has cried foul play — he’s filed a complaint to invalidate the election with Mexico’s elections institute. He’s alleged that the PRI bought votes in the 2012 election and exceeded spending limits.  He’s probably right.

But unfortunately, he lost by between 6% and 7% of the vote.  A lot of folks in Mexico acknowledge that the PRI may have bought a lot of votes in the recent election and probably exceeded spending limits — even the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), which currently controls the presidency, admits this. But there’s really no substantive legal recourse (just a post-facto fine). The relevant fact is that no one thinks Peña Nieto’s margin of victory is small enough for this to have actually mattered.  Continue reading Despite likely fraud, AMLO, #YoSoy132 protests seem destined to fail

Final Mexican election results (and some positive surprises for the PRD)

We have some more final numbers for each of the key Mexican races from Sunday’s election, and in each case, it suggests that Mexico was warier than polls suggested about returning the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) — the party that governed Mexico for 71 years until 2000 — to power.  Furthermore, the results suggest Mexicans, under the right circumstances, may be turning to the left and, above all, the leftist  Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) may, like so often in its recent history, have lost a key opportunity to win real power in Mexico.

When you look to the congressional races and the key gubernatorial races too, there’s reason to believe that at each turn, the PRI hasn’t won quite the sweeping victory that it once expected, and in many ways, the PRD and even the center-right, ruling Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) over performed from expectations.

Presidential Election.  Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI’s candidate has won with just 38.15% to 31.64% for the PRD’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD).  The candidate of the PAN, Josefina Vázquez Mota, trails with 25.40%.  Gabriel Quadri de la Torre of the Partido Nueva Alianza (PANAL), won 2.30%. Vázquez Mota managed to win a handful of states in the north-central Mexico (unlike the PRI’s 2006 presidential candidate, whose third-place finish was much more devastating), the manufacturing and industry headland that has always been the PAN’s stronghold.  Likewise, López Obrador carried many of Mexico’s southern states and the Distrito Federal.

What is so striking is that Peña Nieto’s lead was not the double-digit lead most polls suggested, but just 6.5%.  It suggests to me that the PRD made a colossal mistake in nominating López Obrador, with all of his baggage — voters remained wary of someone they suspected remained an old-line statist leftist and he never quite shook the unpopularity that he developed from the months of protests following his very narrow loss in the 2006 election.  It seems unmistakable that the outgoing head of government of the Distrito Federal, Marcero Ebrard, would have presented a much more moderate campaign and may well have given Peña Nieto a real campaign, if not overtaken the PRI’s candidate altogether.  It was a clear missed opportunity for the PRD in renominating López Obrador.

Even today, López Obrador has refused to concede defeat amid what he calls more corruption and fraud than in 2006, is asking for a full recount, and is likely already turning off moderate voters in what Mexico’s political elite fear will be a rerun of the months of protests that followed the 2006 election.  Although he may have some valid points, notwithstanding his closer-than-expected result, it seems unlikely that a recount could make up 6.5% of the total vote.

Above all, the rise of Peña Nieto indicated more disapproval for the PAN, and the Calderón administration in particular, than any love or nostalgia for the PRI.  A modern, competent PRD effort could have well caught fire.

Congress.  Unlike election night predictions and polling predictions prior to the election, the PRI and the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), Mexico’s Green Party, a longtime PRI ally, did not win an absolute majority in either the Senado, the upper house of Mexico’s Congress, or the Cámara de Diputados, its lower house.  The PRI and the PVEM actually lost ground — going from 262 seats before to just 242 seats now.
The PAN lost 24 seats and looks likely to hold just 118 in the new Congress — surely a solid defeat, but hardly a wipeout.  Given that the PRI will not command an absolute majority in the lower house, the PAN will likely be the party that determines which PRI-initiated reforms will be passed in the next three years.  This will assuredly provide comfort to Mexicans, such as those in the #YoSoy132 movement, that were so concerned with the PRI’s return to power.  Not only will the PRI be checked by much stronger institutions than existed two decades ago, it will need to work with the PAN to pass reforms — in many cases, market-friendly reforms that the PAN itself has been proposing for years.  PANAL won 10 seats, an improvement of two.
In the meanwhile, the big winner was the PRD and its leftist allies, who will improve on their 88 seats to 140 in the new Congress, and will have a a base to grow upon for the 2015 midterm elections and the 2018 general election.
In the Senato, the PRI will have 57 votes to 41 for the PRI, 29 for the PRD and one for PANAL — again, it will require the PAN’s approval to pass any PRI legislation in the upper house.

Peña Nieto and the PRI win Mexico’s general election after 12 years out of power

The rapid count from Mexico’s federal election institute is in, and has projected that, as expected, Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate of the the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), has been elected the next president of Mexico.

Peña Nieto had between 37.93% and 38.55% of the vote. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), who narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election, won between 30.90% and 31.86% of the vote.  The candidate of the ruling Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), Josefina Vázquez Mota, won between just 25.10% and 26.03% of the vote.  As shown below in an electoral map from El Universal, the PAN still eked out a plurality in the vote in some of its strongholds in Mexico’s north, and the PRD held on to many of the states in central and southern Mexico that have long been its strongest region, while the PRI found success across the country.

López Obrador has not yet conceded defeat, however, maintaining that he will wait for the final count.

Outgoing president Felipe Calderón has promised a cooperative transition, pending final results from Mexico’s elections institute.

Meanwhile, the PRI seemed likely to win a majority in both houses of Mexico’s Congress — in particular with an absolute majority in the

The ability to control both the executive and legislative branches was seen as a major opportunity for the PRI to implement tax reforms, labor reforms and energy reforms that the PAN has not accomplished in the past 12 years of occupying Los Pinos.

Across the country, up to a quarter of Mexicans also voted in gubernatorial elections in six states and selected a new head of government in the Distrito Federal.

In the DF, the PRD’s candidate, Miguel Ángel Mancera, the current DF attorney general, won the election easily with 63.5% of the vote, extending the PRD’s longtime advantage in the DF — the party’s candidate has won the race since 1997, when Mexico City’s residents first had the opportunity to vote directly for their head of government.

In Morelos, exit polls showed the PRD’s candidate, Graco Ramírez Garrido Abreu, leading with 41% of the vote, with the PRI’s candidate, Amado Orihuela Trejo, following in second place with 37%.

In Tabasco, the PRI’s candidate, Jesús Alí de la Torre, mayor of Villahermosa, and the PRD’s candidate, federal senator Arturo Núñez Jiménez, were locked in a very tight race — exit polls show the PRI candidate leading 37.03% to 35.81%.

Although the PRI has declared victory in Yucatán, its candidate Rolando Zapata was leading with just 30.01% to the PAN’s candidate, Joaquín Díaz Mena with 28.32%.  The PAN held the governorship of Yucatán previously from 2001 to 2005. Exit polls, however, showed Zapata with a more comfortable margin of victory of about 49% to 40%.

In Jalisco, Jorge Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz was set to win 44% of the vote to just 33% for the PRI’s candidate — Jalisco is Mexico’s third-largest state and has been controlled by the PAN since 1995.

In Guanajuato, however, Mexico’s fifth-largest state, and another PAN stronghold since 1995 (former president Vicente Fox got his political start here), the PAN’s Miguel Márquez Márquez, a state minister for social and human development, seems likely to have won: he leads with 49.77% to just 38.04% for the PRI candidate.

In Chiapas, the 32-year-old Manuel Velasco Coello, the PRI-allied candidate of the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), was leading with 64.3%.

From Cárdenas to López Obrador: Why the Mexican left just can’t win

It’s been a bad century or so for you if you’re a Mexican leftist.

Barring a huge upset, Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections are not going to change that.

Despite coming within a very narrow margin of winning Mexico’s presidency in 2006, the candidate of the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), Andrés Manuel López Obrador seems likely to do much more poorly this time around — despite a poll boost that’s seen him overtake Josefina Vázquez Mota, the candidate of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) earlier this month, and despite an anti-PRI youth movement, #YoSoy132, that has rallied opposition to the PRI (although not necessarily in favor of the PRD).

López Obrador — or “AMLO” as he’s known in the media and among his supporters — is holding a large rally in central Mexico City today to wrap up his presidential campaign, starting on the Reforma, Mexico’s grand avenue, and marching all the way to the Zócalo, the central square of Mexico City.

And while he may well come within single digits of the frontrunner, Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), it seems almost assured that 2012 — like 2006 and so many elections before it — will not be the year for Mexico’s left.

López Obrador, who has, fairly or unfairly, been tagged as a bit of a messianic figure in Mexican politics, refused to cede the PRD’s presidential nomination to his successor as Mexico City’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard.  Ebrard, who lacks López Obrador’s baggage and who is viewed as much more centrist, could well have given Peña Nieto a strong run.  Given the recent success in several 2010 gubernatorial races of PAN-PRD coalitions, it is possible that Ebrard could have challenged Peña Nieto in a two person-race on such a PAN-PRD banner nationally. Continue reading From Cárdenas to López Obrador: Why the Mexican left just can’t win

Drug cartels and the security issue in the Mexican election

One issue I have not emphasized much in advance of the Mexican presidential and legislative elections is the drug issue, because I don’t think that the issue alone has necessarily driven the resurgence of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the popularity of presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto.

But it’s of course a huge issue, especially in the background, and it does account for a lot of the fatigue with outgoing president Felipe Calderón.  William Finnegan in The New Yorker and Patrick Radden Keefe in the The New York Times Magazine both provide amazing accounts in the past week or two, with stunning insights into the Mexican drug cartels: the power of the longtime Sinaloa cartel and its head, Joaquín Guzmán; their rivals, the Zetas (a mutant sect of one-time elite army forces-turned-criminals); and the Calderón administration’s “war” against the drug cartels.

Calderón enlisted Mexico’s military to combat the drug trade in 2006.  The results of that effort have not exactly been successful: an army that’s now distrusted by the citizenry, but not feared by the drug lords; spreading (although still very localized) violence; 55,000 Mexicans dead in six years; and a public that’s generally weary of additional Mexican bloodshed.  But the drug violence is really just one among several issues — lack of progress in reducing corruption, economic reforms, GDP growth and unemployment, lack of further energy development — where the public has gotten frustrated with Calderón and with his predecessor, Vicente Fox, in the 12 years that the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) has held Mexico’s presidency.

You should take the time to read both stories — they provide a fascinating background for Sunday’s general election (and make clear that reducing drug use is a demand-side problem currently in Sisyphean pursuit of a supply-side solution).  But I would caution against using them as the sole prism through which to view Mexican politics, for various reasons.

The drug war is an issue that gets plenty of exposure in the American media space, but probably more exposure than it should.  For much of the past six years, the American media has generally overemphasized the drug violence to the point where many Americans now assume that all of Mexico is a war zone. That’s ridiculous, of course — it should be taken with a grain of salt (or maybe a gram of something stronger), but anecdotally, I get the sense that this is one of several pressing issues in Mexican public life for Mexicans, but not the overweening issue.  Growing the economy, reducing unemployment, further tax reform, labor market reform, reducing corruption, reducing poverty, political reform, trade and foreign relations — all are just as important to Mexicans.

It’s also important to remember that drug violence varies widely by region.    Continue reading Drug cartels and the security issue in the Mexican election