Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mexico prepares to change the guard; Enrique Peña Nieto meets with Obama, U.S. officials on eve of swearing in

President-elect and his wife celebrate their second anniversary during quick trip to U.S. and Canada

*Updates below*
Guadalajara -
Mexico's president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto arrived in Washington last night, where he'll meet briefly today with president Barack Obama.

Peña Nieto was accompanied by his wife, actress Angélica Rivera, and senior advisers who serve on his transition team. The group will meet for about 35 minutes this morning with U.S. officials, followed by a private 15 minute chat between the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) leader and Obama. Peña Nieto takes office this Saturday, Dec. 1. Today is his and Rivera's second wedding anniversary.

After his visit to the Oval Office, Mexico's incoming president will meet with congressional leaders of both parties, including Sen. John McCain (R. Arizona.), who earlier this year suggested that he had reservations about Peña Nieto. The president-elect will also confer with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Peña Nieto departs Washington this afternoon in route to Ottawa, where he'll meet tomorrow with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The two countries enjoy generally warm relations, although they've been stressed in recent months over the case of Cynthia Ann Vanier, a Canadian woman whom the Mexican government says tried to smuggle a son of the late deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi into this country in 2011. Vanier is in jail in Quintana Roo state, on Mexico's Caribbean coast, awaiting trial on charges which could land her in jail for decades.

Enrique Peña Nieto's new cabinet officers will be sworn in just after midnight Friday, and will assume their official duties immediately. The president-elect will take the oath of office and address the nation in the country's Cámara de Diputados, equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives, on Saturday morning. Federal properties in Mexico City are under heavy guard this week, and the Cámara itself will be under complete lock down beginning Thursday.

Defeated leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who lost the Mexican presidency by a hair in 2006 and by a more substantial six percentage points this year, has called faithful supporters into the streets this weekend for peaceful demonstrations against what he calls the "imposition" of Peña Nieto on Mexico. A largely student-composed protest group known as YoSoy 132, which billed itself as nonpartisan during last spring's campaign but quickly proved itself to be tightly allied with López Obrador and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) which he then led, has promised to march on the Cámara and other Federal District sites, prompting intense security in the capital and the sealing off of some areas. YoSoy's stated goal is to stop Peña Nieto from taking the formal oath of office. Many dignitaries, including heads of state and vice-president Joe Biden, are expected to attend Saturday's swearing in ceremonies.

PRI ruled Mexico - many contend with an iron grip - from 1929 to 2000, when it was ousted by the National Action Party. Last July's election marked its first victory at the presidential level since 1994.

Just a year ago Peña Nieto was in Washington and called for a dramatic change in the nation's six year old drug war, launched in December 2006, including the withdrawal of military units. But he has since largely abandoned those themes, and in a weekend editorial in the Washington Post confirmed previously announced plans to increase federal police - a paramilitary force - by some 35,000 officers. The president-elect and his drug war czar have also promised to create from scratch a 40,000 strong national gendarmerie, modeled after those of Italy and Colombia, to hunt down drug cartel bosses and organized crime kingpins, and provide more security in the countryside where local police are scarce and often untrustworthy.

In advance of today's trip both the new president and his transition team emphasized that Mexico's relationship with the United States is complex and must take into account many issues apart from the drug war, particularly including economics, trade and immigration. In prepared statements both capitals announced that the two leaders would discuss a "wide range of topics of mutual interest." At a photo session in the Oval Office Obama told the press that he expected to have a "strong personal and professional relationship" with Peña Nieto, as he has had with outgoing president Felipe Calderón since 2009. Obama praised his counterpart today, saying that the incoming chief executive enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for getting things done. Some will agree with that - for very different reasons.

Drug legalization "not the correct route," Peña Nieto tells Time magazine
In an interview with Time the president-elect said, "There's room to debate the course that the war against drug trafficking should take. But that's not to suggest that the government of Mexico is going to change what it's doing anytime soon. I'm in favor of a debate (on the topic) within the hemisphere." Questioned about marijuana legalization initiatives which were approved in Colorado and Washington on Nov. 6, the PRI leader said, "Personally, I'm against legalization. I don't think that's the way to go."

The Time interview, conducted in Mexico City earlier this month, was released to coincide with the president-elect's trip to the United States and Canada.

Nov. 28 - Harvard names Felipe Calderón to JFK School of Government on eve of his departure
Nov. 30 - Peña Nieto will take the reins at 12:00 a.m. Saturday in a private ceremony at Los Pinos, Mexico's White House, news sources report. Calderón will step aside in the first minute of the new day, in the same way that former president Vicente Fox yielded authority to him six years ago. Peña Nieto's formal swearing in before the senate and house of deputies will take place about 10:00 a.m., followed by an address to the congress and the nation. Protesters are already camped out on site.

Mexican public security survey gives poor marks to Calderón, reveals little confidence in Peña Nieto
Peña Nieto transition team confirms: Mexican military will remain on streets to help wage drug war
Mexican court rejects leftist bid to void July 1 presidential election; end of the road for López Obrador
Enrique Peña Nieto will travel in style, aboard Boeing 787 Dreamliner
"The beast in the cave and the soap opera actor"
Enrique Peña Nieto admits: "I was unfaithful" - and bares all in newspaper interview
El Gran Amante - The many romances of Enrique Peña Nieto, back in the spotlight

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