Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto recently celebrated his first 100 days in office. Pena Nieto, who’s election brought back the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, (PRI) which ruled Mexico for over 70 years—back into power after a 12 year absence is moving forward with a number of reforms, while yielding poor results. Most important is that in the first 100 days of his presidency there have been just over 3000 murders, mostly related to drug trafficking.
Pena Nieto‘s most high profile acts have been the release of the French citizen, Florence Cassez, who had been imprisoned as part of a kidnapping ring. While Cassez was released by a supreme court order, many in Mexico claim that Pena Nieto had a hand in her release. While Cassez flew home to France, Mexicans feared the country was going back to the old days of the PRI.
But it’s not as if impunity existed only under the PRI. Early in his administration, Pena Nieto passed the “victim’s law” proposed and supported by the poet Javier Sicilia. The law is an attempt to recognize victims of crimes and allows for reparations and due process, and also focuses on impunity and lack of judicial process.
Another positive act on the part of Pena Nieto has been the announcement that the Pena Nieto’s administration has said it will search for the thousands of Mexicans who “disappeared” under his predecessor’s administration. According to an article in the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, the undersecretary of Human Rights for the Secretary of National Defense (SEDENA) claims they have evidence of over 27,523 “disappeared” individuals. Many of the cases involve government institutions and security forces. But meanwhile, the number of kidnappings in the last 100 days have been equal to those reported over the same period under former president Felipe Calderon.
While high profile crimes and security problems continue to plague Mexico: The drug war, the rape of six Spanish tourists, the arming and self patrolling of small towns in the Guerrero, there has been positive media about Mexico. Recently, an article in the Atlantic titled “From Bullets to Bistros” tells of the low crime rate in Mexico City. Indeed, Mexico City and other parts of the country are not ablaze with organized crime and the war on drugs, but this has been going on for a while, and is partly due to two successive progressive administrations of Mexico City mayors.
Enrique Pena Nieto administration
Also, in an editorial published in February, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman claimed Mexico is getting back the manufacturing it lost to Asia and attracting more global investment. To hear, Friedman tell it, Mexico is going through an economic boom despite the crime. It’s true that Mexico’s GDP rose 0.8 percent from the third quarter, and its economy accelerated much more than analysts expected, mostly by agricultural growth, to 3.9 percent in 2012. Much of this does not reflect or is a reaction to any of Pena Nieto’s policies, but it places his administration with a positive scenario for promoting change and to further propel economic growth.
Earlier this month the PRI voted to back Pena Nieto’s plan to break up the Pemex oil monopoly. But also on the table is the proposal to tax food and medicine (currently tax exempt), to make up for tax shortfalls from the privatization of Pemex.
And then there is the arrest of Elba Esther Gordillo, the leader of Mexico’s powerful Teacher’s Union. Known as “La Maestra,” for decades Gordillo was considered the most powerful woman in Mexico and the main obstacle to education reform. She was arrested on suspicion of embezzling $200-million. Her arrest came a day after Pena Nieto’s administration enacted major educational reforms.
And yet for most Mexicans life remains the same. Mexico is the same place it was last year, and the same place it was even before that. Change does not come without controversy. Pena Nieto seems to be moving things, but still has a long way to go to turn Mexico into a place where all Mexicans have the opportunity to participate and benefit from a string economy and a safe country.