Drugs, poverty top agenda of Mexico's new president

AFP , Tuesday 3 Jul 2012

Mexico's presumed president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto inherits a country beset by a brutal drug war, an economy struggling to create jobs, and political turmoil as his chief opponent refuses to concede


The youthful-looking 45-year-old leader, Pena Nieto has moved quickly since Sunday's election to try to allay fears that the corrupt practices of his once authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) could make a comeback.

"We are a new generation. We are not returning to the past. My government has its sights set on the future. Mexico has changed," he told foreign reporters Monday.

On Tuesday he wrote in the The New York Times that his election victory— official results are still to be confirmed—offers an "opportunity for change and a new direction," after being out of power for 12 years.

Analysts however believe that Nieto is not likely to plot an entirely new course, but will rather modify the government's current economic and security policies.

His most important challenge is battling the drug cartels responsible for Mexico's vicious narcotics trade. Turf wars have killed tens of thousands of people during the six-year term of outgoing President Felipe Calderon.

George Grayson, a senior associate of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, said Pena Nieto must tackle the issue at a local political level, as well as on a national security basis, if any progress is to be made.

"It would be unrealistic to expect that he would rein in governors, the nation's new viceroys, who either cut deals with drug syndicates or turn a blind eye to their crimes," said Grayson.

"He might, however, throw his weight behind the idea of re-election, beginning with mayors, to inject a modicum of accountability in a regime whose governors and other officeholders act with impunity."

Pena Nieto wrote in the Times that he respects Calderon's commitment to ending the "scourge" of drugs. "There can be neither negotiation nor a truce with criminals," he wrote.

However, given the estimated 60,000 deaths since 2006, and "debatable progress in stemming the flow of drugs, current policies must be re-examined."

While Washington is focused on cracking down on the crime syndicates responsible for smuggling drugs into the United States, Mexico is more keen on halting the illegal flow of weapons into the country from its northern neighbor.

Calderon has raised the issue repeatedly with Washington, and it featured prominently in Pena Nieto's campaign speeches.

The economy grew under Calderon, but official statistics fail to reflect a growing gap between the middle class and poor families.

Forty-seven percent of Mexico's 112 million residents are poor, according to government figures. Mexico is Latin America's second biggest economy after Brazil, but there are nearly 15 million more poor people since 2000, when the PRI left power, figures show.

Poverty ranks second only after insecurity in the minds of Mexicans, according to surveys.

Pena Nieto wrote that other developing countries like India, China and Brazil "have shown the way to significant and lasting poverty alleviation through institutional reforms" focused on growth.

"It's time for these improvements to come to Mexico," the former governor of the State of Mexico, wrote in The New York Times, without giving specifics.

Pena Nieto however will first have to erase questions from his closest defeated rival that the presidential vote was "fraudulent."

When leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador lost the presidential ballot in 2006 by less than one percent he claimed fraud and organized mass protests that paralyzed Mexico City for more than a month.

The first official results from Sunday's vote showed Lopez Obrador with 31 percent of the vote against 38 percent for Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)—a much wider margin than six years ago.

Lopez Obrador claimed the PRI, through its national party and governors, spent millions of pesos buying votes—charges akin to the rigged elections and widespread bribery the PRI was known for during several decades in government until it was kicked out of power in 2000.

Lopez Obrador, emphasizing that he and his supporters will first scrutinize the balloting results with election officials, and provide evidence of fraud before filing "appropriate legal action."

He also charged that the news media heavily favored the PRI and that the party shattered campaign spending limits. 


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