In Mexico — as with much of Latin America — power follows power, and after what must’ve felt like 12 long years, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) is back in Los Pinos.
Enrique Peña Nieto, the 46-year-old former governor of the state of Mexico, was inaugurated on the first of December amid massive protests both in favor and in opposition of the new president and the party he represents.
During his inaugural address, he promised to lead the nation “where it needs to go.”
Mexico’s new chief executive faces a laundry list of issues, of course, from a drug war against powerful cartels that has cost 60,000 lives since 2007, to a relatively stable yet fragile economy much too dependent on informal work.
Last month Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a great blurb on the perception crisis confronting the Mexicans, one that paints America’s neighbor to the south as a backward, “gangland gunbattle,” instead of what it’s actually closer to being: “Canada on the Rio Grande.”
As O’Neil writes:
“The neighbor Americans believe they have to the south, and the Mexico that has developed over the last twenty years, are two different places. As Mexico’s incoming president Enrique Peña Nieto meets with President Obama this week, the biggest challenge facing relations today may be our skewed perceptions.
In Americans’ psyches, drugs dominate. When advertising firm GSD&M and Vianovo strategic consultants asked Americans to come up with three words that describe Mexico, nearly every other person answered ‘drugs,’ followed by ‘poor’ and ‘unsafe.’ Other questions reveal Americans see Mexico as corrupt, unstable, and violent, more problem than partner. Americans had more favorable views of Greece, El Salvador, and Russia.
These perceptions reflect the Mexican reality that dominates headlines: soaring crime rates and gruesome murders in a war against drug traffickers. But this window into Mexico overlooks an economic transformation and deepening ties with the United States that reflect a dramatically different country.”
Peña Nieto must also contend with Mexico’s fading role as a leader in Latin America at the hands of growing economic powerhouse Brazil. Fortunately for the new chief, Mexico’s economy is expected to expand at an astounding rate of 4 percent in 2013, which is twice as much forecast for Brazil.
Still, many Mexicans at home and abroad are waiting to see just what kind of PRI has returned to power in the beloved patria, whether this is the corrupt and repressive party that ruled Mexico from its birth in 1929 to its historic loss in 2000 — the party that Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa labeled “the perfect dictatorship” — or whether this really is a new, much more democratic PRI. Will Peña Nieto continue his predecessor’s bloody military-style campaign against the drug cartels, possibly resulting in 60,000 more lives lost? Or will he and the PRI revert back to the double-dealing that maintained a black harmony between drug dealers and civil society?
As always, only time has the answers.