By Neal Erickson
On December 1, 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated as Mexico’s 57th President. With this election the Institutional Revolutionary Party reclaimed the office it had held for 71 uninterrupted years until Vincente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) won in 2000. By constitutional mandate, Mexico’s President is elected for 6 years, and cannot run for reelection. In 2006 the PAN won again with Felipe Calderon, the Secretary of Energy during the Fox Administration.
Peña Nieto was born in Atlacomulco in the State of Mexico on July 20, 1966, the eldest of 4 children of Gilberto Enrique Peña del Mazo, an electrical engineer, and María del Perpetuo Socorro Ofelia Nieto Sánchez, a school teacher. When he was 11 the family moved to Toluca. As a youngster he was called “Quique”, a common nickname for Enrique. He’s remembered as a courteous, tidy child who some teachers recalled would tell them he was going to be Governor of Mexico someday. Other than one year at a middle school in Maine, U.S.A., primarily to learn English, his education was entirely in Mexico. He earned a Batchelors degree and a Law degree from Universidad Panamericana in Mexico D.F., and later a Masters degree in Business from the Monterray Institute of Technology and Higher Education, State of Mexico Campus.
Joining the PRI in 1984, he held a variety of lower-level jobs serving as secretary or delegate for various appointed State officeholders, PRI organizations and committees. After 1999, as a favorite of then Governor Arturo Montiel Rojas (his uncle), he advanced within party politics to more substantial responsibilities which included being the State’s Sub-secretary of Government. In 2003, he was elected as deputy of the XIII Local District with a seat in Atlacomulco, State of Mexico.
By 2005 there were eight local individuals besides Peña Nieto that had declared for the PRI candidacy for Governor of the State of Mexico. However on February 5 that year, after the dust had cleared, Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as the PRI candidate. He was elected that summer, and became Governor September 15th. During the campaign he had emphasized a list of 608 promises, improvements and projects he swore (in the presence of a notary) to complete during his term as Governor.
By the end of said term, according to the official web page of the State of Mexico, all but two were accomplished. Highway improvements, new hospitals, better water systems, public transportation expansion, and even significant reductions in specific disease and health problems were all accomplished without increasing the State’s debt, due to debt restructuring and a large increase in the tax base.
During the 2012 campaign for President, many were impressed by the fact that, especially during the debates, Peña Nieto chose the high road, eschewing name-calling and personal jibes for discussion of facts and policy. A vocal and angry youth opposition developed however, due to some of his previous actions while Governor, published accusations of unfair support by the media, including the largest TV network Televisa, and a huge distribution of gift cards to the public in exchange for promised votes. Ultimately his victory was decisive; a margin of 6% over Manuel Lopez Obrador, the closest of the two other candidates, and the election results were validated by the Federal Electoral Institute, Mexico’s independent election oversight organization.
After assuming office his schedule has been full, with meetings, appearances and speeches on policy. He’s reaffirmed his commitment to the defeat of drug trafficking and has spoken of major changes in the educational system, beginning with the oft-criticized teachers union. He’s eyeing the possibilities of opening the telecommunications business, and increasing private investing in Pemex as well.
Saying that he will make no specific promises for the first 100 days of his administration, he instead will study and analyze reforms he sees as necessary, “I’ve set my horizon for a year,” he said, “… that in a year’s time we can achieve agreements and consensus, if not unanimous then at least among the majority for the constitutional and legal changes necessary to put the reforms in place.” At his worst, his enemies have criticized Peña Nieto for being sort of a mental lightweight, sometimes compared to the U.S. President Reagan. However Ronald Reagan also became known for his uncanny political skills and his ability to chose the best people to get the jobs done. Friends say Enrique Peña Nieto has these very qualities, and will be an effective President because of it.