One hundred days of the new government in Mexico

03/21/2013

In Mexico, as in other countries, the first 100 days of a new government are considered to be the “honeymoon” period and an indication of what to expect from that government. From the euphoria surrounding Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which was removed from power in 2000 after 71 years of semi-dictatorial reign, it would appear that he has revitalized his party since attaining the presidency.

He was elected after a campaign filled with irregularities, financial excess and the clandestine support of the big television broadcasters, who promoted him like a commercial product for six years as the Governor of the State of Mexico and as the virtual presidential nominee. They presented him daily in the news and on other programs as an outstanding politician as well as an eligible bachelor. He later married a television actress who is now First Lady.

There were those who questioned his intellectual capacity (after several George W. Bush-style setbacks), but Peña has succeeded in controlling the political landscape with unexpected skill, and in three months has made it clear that he is an agile and conciliatory leader. He called on the leaders of the weakened National Action Party (PAN) and Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), and made a “governability pact,” now expressing itself in Congress.

He has made some spectacular moves, even against those who are his allies. He has abandoned the bellicose speech of his predecessor, Calderón, and is downplaying the importance of the “war on drugs,” while keeping the army and navy in the streets. He has created a perception of decreased violence, although it continues to be the same or worse, especially in some rural areas where new community defense groups are acting illegally.

And he is taking advantage of the weaknesses of opposition parties in the wake of his election. After 12 years of governing, the PAN lost not only the election, but much of its membership and credibility, descending to its lowest level in decades. Its two presidents (Fox and Calderón) were unable or unwilling to combat the power of the big corrupt unions and corporations that were born under the reign of the PRI and in fact allowed them to grow in influence.

In the name of the new democracy, these presidents relinquished all presidential power, politically freeing the Governors (mainly of the PRI, and including Peña), who, lacking an overall leader, created regional fiefdoms that were worse than before. The result was more corruption, violence and enormous state debt for which no one takes responsibility. Governors, mayors, state legislators and others from all parties raised their own and their subordinates’ salaries, spending money seemingly without limit.

The Left, largely from the PRD, made one last, unsuccessful effort to attain power with the shopworn López Obrador and his Morena movement, which split from the PRD after its electoral defeat. Thus, the PRD remains in power in mainly one important area: Mexico City, the political and economic center of the country, and the party continues to exhibit some of the political trickery of the PRI.

Peña is using the political weakness of these parties to seduce and bully them to implement reforms that his party fought for in Congress during the government of Calderón, without regard to economic delays and the suffering in the country. The idea was to defeat the PAN, and once in power, promote and adopt that party’s reforms as the PRI’s own, as is happening now.

Congress approved Peña’s education reform; meanwhile, in a masterstroke, Peña captured and jailed the corrupt and powerful leader of the teachers’ union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who had opposed him. In the previous decade, Gordillo acquired immense power by blackmailing presidents and parties. A creation of the old corporate PRI, she felt untouchable, although it was possible to corral her at any time, as is true with other corrupt leaders who are now justifiably nervous. The attorney general, with evidence, accused her of diverting 128 million dollars of union funds for her own use.

This made Peña immediately popular, and he launched a telecommunications reform. With the suspiciously unanimous approval of the dominant parties and the quasi-monopolistic corporations, he solicited Congress for a reform that actually changes the absolute and dominant relationship of the electronic and telephonic communications media. The new law would create competition and equal role for the participants, with no one having more than 50 percent of the market in any one area, and would build up public TV and radio.

Carlos Slim’s telephone companies represent 70 and 80 percent of the residential and mobile telephone business respectively. The TV companies Televisa and TV Azteca provide almost 80 percent of that market. Now, they and others will be able to participate in the entire “triple play” of telephone, TV and Internet. What many fear with this strategy is that, in reality, Peña is restoring the absolute presidential power of the old PRI, although limited by the new conditions of the current relative democracy—a political regression paired with economic progress, demonstrating that in the practice of deceit, the PRI continues to be expert.