Mexico City, Mexico – Oil in Mexico is much more than a symbol of national pride. For the past 75 years it has been an enormous source of income for developing Mexico’s infrastructure and improving social welfare. When, on this day in 1938, President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated U.S.- and U.K.-owned oil companies, he allowed Mexico to achieve relative independence and modest prosperity. The nationalization of oil saved Mexico from becoming a paralyzed, essentially colonized country like Guatemala, which has a major mining industry that is almost entirely foreign-owned.
Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the state-owned company with exclusive access to Mexico’s oil, is one of the most lucrative companies in the world. In 2012 it declared profits of over 900 billion pesos (or $70 billion), earnings comparable to those of American oil and gas giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron. More importantly, PEMEX has historically distributed its profits among the Mexican population more equitably than any other industry in the country. Sixty percent of Mexico’s spending on social welfare comes from oil income. Among the things this income currently pays for are education, health care and programs to fight extreme poverty. Every Mexican citizen owns PEMEX, and the profits the company generates have made palpable differences in all of our lives.
Lucrative as it is, PEMEX could make and distribute much greater revenues if it were not so corrupt, inefficient and archaic. We have long known of grave problems with the oil industry and union, such as losses in refining and production. (Output has fallen 25 percent since 2004.) If PEMEX isn’t brought up to date in the next few years, there is a serious danger that the company will collapse. But instead of reforming the institution, the current government has exploited PEMEX’s deficiencies under the guise of reform to fiercely promote a very different agenda: the privatization of oil in Mexico.
Far from modernizing PEMEX, eliminating corruption or directing more income to Mexico’s citizens, the so-called energy reform passed by Congress and signed into law by President Enrique Peña Nieto in December will radically shift the distribution of oil profits from the public to a few private investors. The bill modified Mexico’s constitution to allow private oil companies to compete with PEMEX in every aspect of oil production. Underground oil reserves will still belong to Mexico, but since all profits derived from production will go to corporations, these reforms effectively constitute a privatization. Yet the president never admitted to this underlying agenda in the lead-up to the bill’s passage; his administration has altogether avoided using the word “privatization,” in favor of vague references to “modernization” and “the need for private investment.” This lack of honesty has generated tremendous confusion among the Mexican population, greatly debilitating potential opposition to the bill.
As Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) prepare a new set of bills that will implement the changes to oil laws, a multimillion-dollar publicity campaign of disinformation initiated last year by his administration still saturates the mass media, diverting the debate on “energy reform” by reducing it to obvious questions: Is reform necessary? Is PEMEX efficient? Do we need progress and modernization? As a result, we have skipped over the most pressing and fundamental questions: What should the nature of this reform be? How will profits be distributed? What measures are in place to fight the corruption that causes us to lose so much of our oil income? In order to modernize, do we have to abandon the idea that Mexican oil belongs to the people of Mexico?
The recent history of PEMEX is a story of deliberate sabotage. PEMEX managers have enabled politicians to keep a portion of the company’s profits for decades, laying the groundwork for privatization by making corruption seem like the natural result of a nationalized industry. But the underlying problem has always been and still is political corruption, not a lack of private investment. Consider Romero Deschamps, the leader of PEMEX’s union since 1989, who is accused of stealing an estimated 3 billion pesos’ worth of the union’s assets and of having illegally created secret “private” companies that undertake contract work for PEMEX. In spite of the abundant proof of his guilt, Deschamps is currently a senator for the ruling PRI. Peña Nieto claims that stamping out such criminality is one of the primary objectives of the current “reform,” but his policy for overhauling the industry doesn’t contain a single strategy aimed at fighting corruption.
The majority of the proposed structural changes to PEMEX aren’t even necessary for the task of modernizing Mexico’s oil industry. PEMEX already has access to cutting-edge technologies since private oil companies can operate in Mexico and have been doing so (for example, PEMEX is currently contracting the services of Halliburton and OHL). Whether or not PEMEX should contract private companies is irrelevant; what matters are the terms on which it partners with the private sector. The fact that the Peña Nieto administration is permitting profit-sharing contracts—which have historically been imposed on poor countries, with disastrous results—rather than limiting partnerships to licensing permits that would pave the way for increased efficiency without signing away the democratic ownership of resources, is another clear indicator of the underlying agendas behind the “energy reform.” As former PEMEX director general Adrián Lajous has argued, profit-sharing contracts render private companies unaccountable, leaving the state, its resources and its people vulnerable.
Peña Nieto presents his “reform” as the magic solution to PEMEX’s problems, as if the neoliberal dream of privatization without regulation were synonymous with social justice, economic well-being and democracy. But the facts paint a very different picture. Since neoliberal policies surged in the 1980s and former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari signed NAFTA into law in 1994, a weakened state, incapable of protecting the environment and the rights of its poorest people, has created the perfect conditions for political and corporate corruption. We live every day with the consequences of Carlos Slim’s acquisition of Telmex, the telecommunications company that Salinas privatized in 1990. Because there is little regulation, prices are high and service is poor, and Slim is now one of the richest men in the world. Another dark legacy of Salinas is his privatization of the banking sector and creation of Fobaproa, an agency intended to prevent banks from going bankrupt. After Mexico’s 1994 economic crisis, the institution of Fobaproa meant that the public paid off banks’ massive debts. High-ranking politicians and businessmen have pocketed extraordinary profits, while everyday people have borne greater economic burdens, with each move to privatize. The result is a spectacular growth in inequality. More than 53 million people in Mexico today—nearly half the country—live in poverty, and 11.5 million Mexicans live in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the eleven richest men in the country have accumulated roughly 11 percent of the GDP.
We cannot undertake true energy reform in Mexico without first undertaking political reforms that would decisively and effectively tackle corruption. Sadly, because it does nothing to change political structures and curb corruption, the current legislative process is taking us further away from democratic values and constitutes a huge step in the wrong direction. Approved by politicians who never consulted voters, the bill passed in December opens the field for companies that are known the world over for their abusive practices and for co-opting politicians (ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, OHL) to operate in Mexico without regulation or restriction. In the words of the historian Lorenzo Meyer Cossío, we are opening the door to “mercenaries.” The Mexican government expects its citizens to place ownership of our hydrocarbons in private hands, without our agreement and in exchange for minimal revenue. But modernization does not require that we give up our resources. Improvement shouldn’t entail changing the basic principle that natural resources belong to us all.
The “energy reform” currently under way is a huge step toward greater inequality, environmental devastation and the loss of economic and political independence for Mexico. It is one example of the neoliberal fantasy of unregulated capitalism that has landed us in our present situation, in which the 85 richest people in the world hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest. We are living through the greatest inequality in the history of humanity and unprecedented ecological destruction. To combat this urgent situation, we need to strengthen fragile regulatory structures by creating independent, democratically owned institutions. By instead dismantling the few supportive social structures left, Peña Nieto’s government is pushing Mexico to a dangerous place. Against a backdrop of extreme poverty and social injustice, the PRI’s “reforms” will, sooner or later, lead to revolt.
Translated by Georgia Phillips-Amos.
This piece was made possible, in part, by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
In a historic move, Mexican congress members have voted to open the state-controlled energy sector to foreign investment for the first time in 75 years. On Thursday, President Enrique Peña Nieto applauded the legislation, which is poised to become the nation’s most significant economic reform since the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.
“The energy reform marks a fundamental transformation that will allow us to increase our energy sovereignty and self-sufficiency in Mexico,” Peña Nieto wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “It will also drive productivity, economic growth and job creation in Mexico.”
The legislation will alter several articles of Mexico’s Constitution, allowing private multinationals to develop the country’s oil and natural gas resources for the first time since 1938, when former President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the energy industry with the creation of Pemex, or Petróleos Mexicanos.
Though Mexico still owns its natural resources, foreign companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp will be able to search, drill and open gasoline stations under contract with the Mexican state.
The end of the Pemex energy monopoly is expected to bring Mexico an additional $20 billion in foreign investment per year as multinationals race to tap vast deepwater oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the region is the largest unexplored oil patch outside the Arctic Circle.
Yet in a country where local oil production has long been a source of national pride and is often equated with sovereignty, the reform has been heavily contested by opposition leaders from the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD), who have said the measure should go before a national referendum.
“We warn all private, national and, above all, transnational businesses and companies that want to come and invest in Mexico and petroleum, in order to expropriate Mexican petroleum, to think again,” said Jesus Zambrano, president of the PRD. “The most probable outcome is that within a year and a half, a recall referendum will reject this change.”
On Thursday, PRD members blocked the entrances to the lower house’s main voting hall to prevent discussion of the bill. Antonio Garcia, a PRD lawmaker, even stripped down to his underwear during to symbolize a nation stripped of its wealth.
Regardless, members from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the conservative National Action Party (PAN), met in an adjacent conference room where they passed the legislation with 353-134 vote. Peña Nieto is expected to sign the bill in February after it has been ratified by state legislatures.
Currently, Mexico is the 10th largest oil producer in the world and proponents of the reform say it could propel the nation into the top five by taking advantage of new extraction and deepwater exploration technologies that Pemex cannot afford.
After peaking in 2004, Mexico’s oil production has declined by 25 percent to 2.5 million barrels a day. During the same period, Pemex has more than doubled operational spending to $20 billion per year, gaining the company a reputation for inefficiency and corruption.
Still, Pemex revenues provide a third of Mexican government’s annual budget and the company’s 160,000 employees face an uncertain future as lawmakers finalize the reform details, which include the removal of all five representatives of Pemex’s worker’s union from the company board.
To put the PRI agenda in perspective, The Financial Times said “energy is the climax of a sweeping agenda of reforms, including telecoms, labor, tax and education, which Enrique Peña Nieto has championed in his first year as president.”
El Pais: México cambia su historia energética a contrarreloj – http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2013/12/12/actualidad/1386888542_011957.html
Bloomberg: Mexico Passes Oil Bill Seen Luring $20 Billion a Year – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-12/mexico-lower-house-passes-oil-overhaul-to-break-state-monopoly.html
New York Times: Mexico’s Pride, Oil, May Be Opened to Outsiders – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/world/americas/mexico-oil.html?hpw&rref=business
Financial Times: Mexico courts foreign investment with energy reform – http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e2242e2c-632e-11e3-886f-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2nIk7FhZe
Wall Street Journal: Mexico Congress Passes Historic Energy Bill – http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303932504579254013051981266
Reuters: Mexican Congress passes radical shake-up of oil industry – http://ca.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idCABRE9BB16820131212
As of Dec. 8 the Mexican Senate was set to begin debates on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan for opening up the state-owned oil and electric companies, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Federal Energy Commission (CFE), to greater participation by foreign and Mexican private companies. Supporters say the “energy reform” will bring needed capital investment and technical expertise to the energy sector, while opponents consider it a disguised plan for privatization, especially of oil production, which President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1934-1940) nationalized in 1938.
The legislative proposal–worked out by the governing centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which together hold a majority in the Congress—includes changes to Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution. Article 27 asserts state control over oil, gas and coal and bans the granting of concessions; the proposal would add a qualification that private companies could share in profits, could be paid in cash or barrels of oil and could count their share of oil reserves as assets. Article 28 would no longer define the refining of oil and the generation of electricity as strategic activities. According to opponents, the changes to Article 27 would create de facto concessions and the changes to Article 28 would allow private companies to compete with Pemex and the CFE. Opposition in the Senate is being led by Sen. Alejandro Encinas of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Sen. Manuel Bartlett of the small leftist Labor Party (PT). (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/8/13)
Since the beginning of December protesters have organized daily picket lines outside the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to express their opposition to the “reform.” The National Regeneration Movement (Morena), a new center-left party which broke away from the PRD in 2012, is sponsoring the street protests, with support from PRD and PT activists and grassroots groups. The movement suffered a setback in the early morning of Dec. 3 when Morena founder Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) was hospitalized with a heart attack and underwent surgery. A two-time presidential candidate and the head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) from 2000 to 2005, López Obrador was released from the hospital on Dec. 7; his doctors said the patient’s progress was satisfactory but told him to rest at home for four weeks. His son, Andrés Manuel López Beltrán, and Morena president Martí Batres are now leading the protests. (LJ 12/8/13, 12/8/13)
The Congress has nearly completed approval of another set of sweeping constitutional changes. On Dec. 3 the Senate passed a measure that would allow reelection of federal legislators for up to 12 years; currently they cannot stand for reelection after one term–six years for senators and three years for legislative deputies. Presidents would still be limited to one six-year term. The changes would also allow independent candidates to run; now candidates need to be nominated by registered political parties. The measure passed the Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 5 with support from the PRI, the PAN and part of the PRD, but the legislation was returned to the Senate to iron out differences between the versions from the two chambers. The PAN has insisted on the electoral changes as a condition for its support of Peña Nieto’s energy program. (Miami Herald 12/4/13 from AP; LJ 12/6/13)
Protests against Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto during his inauguration on Dec. 1 quickly turned into violent confrontations between police and demonstrators that disrupted much of downtown Mexico City. The protests were called by the National Convention Against the Imposition, a coalition of groups holding that Peña Nieto’s election last July was manipulated, and #YoSoy132 (“I’m number 132”), a student movement that arose in the spring in response to the election campaign [see Update #1130]. But masked youths, many of them wearing black t-shirts with anarchist symbols, quickly became the center of attention at the Dec. 1 demonstration.
The confrontations began around 7 am near the San Lázaro subway and bus stations at the heavily guarded and barricaded Chamber of Deputies, where the inauguration was to take place about three hours later. Determined to break through the metal barriers, the masked youths threw rocks, metal pipes and Molotov cocktails at the federal police, who responded with exceptional violence, using tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons. The media reported that the agents also used rubber bullets; police spokespeople denied the reports. Many #YoSoy132 supporters moved away from the masked youths, as did the famously militant teachers from the southern state of Oaxaca, although both groups organized brigades to assist protesters who were wounded or were overwhelmed by the tear gas.
Dozens of protesters were injured. At around 10 am #YoSoy132 reported that a youth named Carlos Yahir Valdés had been killed by a tear gas canister or a rubber bullet; Adrián Ramírez, president of the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), said the victim was named Carlos Valdivia and had been seriously wounded but not killed.
Eventually the youths in black moved west towards the Zócalo plaza and then on to the Palacio de Bellas Artes cultural center and the Alameda park. Along the way they smashed windows, streetlights, phone booths and ATMs; looted stores and gas stations; and battled the Mexico City police. At times passers-by supplied the protesters with bricks to throw at the police, while smiling tourists took pictures. At least one private car was destroyed and one motorcycle was set on fire. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/2/12)
During his first day in office, President Peña Nieto announced “13 specific decisions” to improve the situation in Mexico, including a universal social security system, life insurance for heads of households, educational reforms, and revival of passenger railroads. He also promised to maintain a zero deficit in the budget while carrying out his programs. (LJ 12/2/12)
Outgoing president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012)–whose militarized fight against drug trafficking set off the violence in which 50,000 Mexicans died, according to critics—is planning to leave Mexico, at least temporarily. On Nov. 28 Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced that Calderón will hold a one-year fellowship at the school starting in January. “This fellowship will be a tremendous opportunity for me to reflect upon my six years in office,” Calderón said in a statement.
Calderón received a master’s degree from the Kennedy school in 2000. The Reuters wire service noted that other recent students at the school include Bo Guagua, son of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai, and Paula Broadwell, co-author of a book about former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned after acknowledging that he’d had an affair with her. (Reuters 11/28/12) Another former student was the late Guatemalan general Héctor Alejandro Gramajo Morales. At his graduation in June 1991 human rights activists served Gramajo with court papers for a federal civil suit under the Alien Tort Claims Act; nine Guatemalans charged him with acts of torture, abduction and murder during counterinsurgency operations in western Guatemala in 1982, when he was army chief of staff. Gramajo lost that and another human rights suit later in the year by default [see Update #737].
- Photos: Protests as Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto takes office (photos.denverpost.com)
Against the sharply contrasting backdrop of violent conflicts in the streets and carefully staged official events, Enrique Peña Nieto took office yesterday. The general outlines of the plan for his six-year term, although still not detailed, reveal proposed changes not unlike the new president–mostly cosmetic and devoted to appearances on the surface.
After taking the oath of office in the Chamber of Deputies at San Lazaro and swearing in his cabinet, the newly inaugurated president appeared before guests at the National Palace in the central plaza to deliver his first speech as Chief Executive.
Peña Nieto began his speech with a rapid pass through Mexican history, citing pre-hispanic and Spanish culture, the liberal and revolutionary currents and “the recent past”. Without mentioning the PRI, he emphasized the orderly change of power since 1934 and “accelerating democracy”, ironically dating from 1968–the year his party massacred hundreds of students in Tlatelolco.
He concluded with what would be the tonic of the speech-that Mexico is “ready to take off” and “everyone agrees that we have an historic opportunity.” His speech centered on the “Mexican Moment”, the idea of a turning point when Mexico would finally enter into a period of peace, prosperity and global recognition.
He did mention the challenges along the way, stating that Mexico is a nation that “grows at two speeds, one of progress and development and the other in backwardness and poverty” and citing the lack of employment and educational opportunities. His speech included a number of specific if not detailed measures that provide fodder for analysis.
Peña Nieto began with the “five strategic points” of his new government:
1. Mexico at peace: Peña offered to “put the citizen at the center of security policy.” He referred to this as a “change in paradigm”, without mentioning the drug war by name or the 60 to 80,000 killed under this model during the Calderon administration. He promised greater coordination between agencies and an effort to combat impunity and concluded, “There can be no security as long as there is no justice.”
2. An inclusive Mexico: Peña Nieto promoted to build an “inclusive” Mexico and close the gap of inequality so all mothers and fathers can support their families. He said Mexico should become a fair, middle-class society.
3. Quality education for all: that educates students to be responsible and committed to their communities.
4. Economic growth: through greater competitiveness, more credit, more investment in infrastructure, strengthening the domestic market and expanding the global market so Mexico can take its place as an emerging economy.
5. Mexico as a responsible global actor: Participation in the world through modern diplomacy, so Mexico becomes a factor of stability in the world and a voice that defends liberty. He also used this point to thank the leaders from abroad present.
Behind the promises
The five points are formulated in vague terms, as is usually the case with presidential promises. However, we can use what was said to anticipate the challenges and possible contradictions they pose, and gauge the political will to carry them out over the next six years.
Security policy. Peña Nieto explicitly referred to “a change in paradigm”. This is notable, since it is what the peace movement and critical analysts (CIP Americas Program among them) have been calling for for years. But there is very little in the strategic point or the “13 decisions” listed afterward to back it up.
A real change in paradigm would require two measures that the Peña government has said it will not take: withdrawing the armed forces from counternarcotics efforts and renegotiating security cooperation with the U.S. government. Peña has proposed a “gendarmery”, which is a militarized police force, or a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations. This is what Mexico already has, as the lines between police and military have been blurred precisely by the drug war. Without a plan for reducing militarization, promises to “rethink” the drug war pale.
The U.S. government has actively promoted and supported the drug war model of enforcement and interdiction through the Merida Initiative and spearheaded the massive expansion of U.S. counternarcotics activities in the country. Although both the US and Mexican governments have privately (in Wikileaks cables) and publicly admitted that the strategy has not worked — they insist it’s just a matter of time–the response is to continue with no major adjustments or real evaluations.
U.S. defense, intelligence and security companies depend on the Mexican drug war to obtain multi-million dollar government contracts. The Pentagon and other U.S. agencies have achieved unprecedented freedom to act and even direct actions on Mexican soil as a result of the Merida Initiative. The hawks in government and the war industry will not give that up easily. Peña Nieto knows that and he also knows that his nation’s economy is highly dependent on its northern neighbor. U.S. politicians worried aloud that his government would attempt to negotiate deals with drug cartels, an option which is practically impossible now due to the changes in structures of organized crime. Peña Nieto has reassured the U.S. that his administration will continue the drug war. That means continued deaths, disappearances and social upheaval. There is no mention of redefining security or human security, although the concept of putting the citizen in the center, rather the state, could be construed as coming closer to that concept.
Referring to the need for justice and eliminating impunity is a politically correct but unsubstantiated move. Impunity underlies government institutions and the corruption of the justice system historically is a PRI construct. Impunity has to be attacked from above, because it has been condoned and even promoted from above for so long. The examples of what has happened to former PRI governors accused of serious crimes against the population such as Ulises Ruiz in Oaxaca and Mario Marín in Puebla and even Peña Nieto himself for his role in the murders and rapes in the community of Atenco are illustrative. Nothing at all has happened to them. The teflon coating of PRI politicians has been carefully preserved, with a few notable exceptions such as ex-governors Tomas Yarrington (charged and on the run) and Mario Villanueva (extradited to the U.S.), who have been prosecuted for drug war crimes at the behest of U.S. authorities.
Economic policy:Making Mexico truly “inclusive” would require some structural changes in economic policy that are not likely to come about in a Peña government. The goal of this strategy is largely contradicted by the formula for economic growth indicated in the fourth point and in other statements by the new president.
He has committed to deepening rather than fixing NAFTA, meaning the countryside will continue to be decimated by unfair competition with subsidized U.S. agricultural imports and the state is barred from basic measures such as favoring national industries in purchases and contracting or protecting vulnerable sectors from oblivion. Strengthening the internal market while expanding the global market sounds great, very balanced, but in reality they require different, and often contradictory, policies.
For example, building a strong domestic market requires supporting national production, which is logical and needed but prohibited under neoliberal trade rules, where Mexico is a world leader in signing draconian free trade agreements. It also requires having a population with purchasing power, while emphasizing foreign investment and being competitive on a global market rigged against workers requires suppressing salaries–something Mexican governments have been doing over the past three decades of PRI and PAN governments.
The laudable goal of investment in infrastructure begs the question of ‘investment for who?’ and leaves open how the administration will deal with controversial infrastructure projects that violate indigenous and human rights. More credit would be a good idea, but up to now what little has been available has gone overwhelmingly to large and powerful producers, further skewing the distribution of income.
Improving education: This requires two major moves–devoting more public resources to education and taking on the entrenched leadership of the corrupt teachers’ union. Several analysts have stated that the appointment of Emilio Chauyfett as Secretary of Education is a blow to Elba Esther Gordillo, the life-long leader of the teachers’ union (SNTE). I am not convinced.
Gordillo is a political operator who climbed to the top by wielding the power of an enormous machine for generating votes and political clientele. This machine was created and sustained by the PRI. Her capacity to exchange favors allows her to call the shots in the nation’s education system. To change that would require democratizing the union. The principle forces to democratize do, and must, come from below. The CNTE, organized to crack open the patronage and corruption of the union, is largely anti-PRI and opposed Peña Nieto. His administration is unlikely to do anything that would strengthen the grassroots union democracy (his party blocked the transparency in union matters part of the labor reform) or permanently alienate the SNTE leadership.
Global affairs: So little of substance was said here that it’s hard to know what the Peña administration will change. The written version speaks of restoring Mexico’s rightful place in the concert of nations” as a “country supportive and committed to the best causes of humanity”. It’s anyone’s guess what that refers to. Peña Nieto told Wolf Blitzer of CNN, who pointedly asked what relations with Castro and Hugo Chavez would be like, that he would be building relations in the south and north. This is a recognition that the PAN governments were early exclusively oriented northward to the U.S. and hostile to center-left governments of the South.
Mexico has at times acted as a U.S. proxy in the region, causing other countries to view it with certain suspicion. The U.S. government has actively used the Mexican government in this sense. As the Obama administration pushes divisions in the region with the Pathways to Prosperity program that allies only nations that agreed to sign free trade agreements with the US and increasing military presence of allied countries under the drug war strategy, it will not be easy for Peña Nieto to trace a neutral or balanced foreign policy within the hemisphere, if that is indeed the objective.
Opposition organizations have vowed to shift their efforts from challenges to the elections to challenges to policies they believe are harmful to the country. The center-left leader and former candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador refused to recognize the new president and is building a new party. The youth movement now is stunned and angered by the violent response of the police while also calling on its members to reject violent confrontation.
The most commonly heard phrase from analysts following Peña Nieto’s inaugural speech, is “the devil’s in the details”. Although Peña Nieto followed up on these five strategic points with 13 decisions that included more specific actions, he still left much room to speculate.
Political promises are often, if not usually, set aside when the real task of governing begins, and one is left to wonder if they were sincere and not practical, or designed to build an image, not a government. The PRI is well-practiced in the art of simulation, of developing a public discourse and a backroom practice.
In any case, the country and the rest of the world now have more clues as to what the return of the PRI will mean for Mexico, for the United States and for the region.
Laura Carlsen is Director of the CIP Americas Program in Mexico City http://www.cipamericas.org.