Monday, September 2, 2013

Peña Nieto delivers his first State of the Union address

Domestic security, economic claims will be open to many challenges

*Updated Sept. 3*
Guadalajara -
In a prototype state of the nation speech summarizing claimed achievements of his nine month old Institutional Revolutionary Party government, president Enrique Peña Nieto reminded the congress and the nation this morning that his promise was "not merely to administer Mexico, but to change it." EPN takes oath, but not all applauded.

The president arrived promptly at a press facility on the grounds of Los Pinos, Mexico's White House, just before 10:00 a.m. He spoke for about 65 minutes to an audience which included his cabinet, key legislative leaders, judicial ministers of the Supreme Court and foreign dignitaries.

Mexican presidents usually deliver their mandatory state of the nation address, known here as El Informe, in the official meeting place of the lower legislative chamber, the Cámara de Diputados. But two weeks ago the entire federal congress was dislodged from San Lázaro, Mexico's Capitol Hill, by striking school teachers, so for security reasons the presidential report was delivered within the safety of the executive grounds. PRI government shows no resolve against thug teachers.

Mexico is undergoing deep institutional changes and awakening itself from inertia, said the president. Acknowledging that the country will face many challenges along the way, Peña Nieto said "our most valuable asset in the fight is the Mexican people. The route is not easy, there will be many obstacles, but we must continue ahead. I'm confident in our ability to get the job done, if we work together as a team."

Striking an egalitarian note, he added, "The many opportunities which this country offers will no longer belong to just a few. We must raise the quality of life for all Mexicans and work for the welfare of all - that is our goal."

President Peña Nieto began his comments by praising the the Cámara for its overwhelmingly approval Sunday night of educational reforms. The most important one will establish uniform minimum teaching qualifications throughout Mexico, and create a new federal agency to administer periodic competency and preparedness examinations based on national, rather than local or regional, standards. Mexico's House of Deputies passes education reforms.

Peña Nieto said the reforms are critical, so that Mexico's children may move ahead and compete with the rest of the world. He promised families equal educational opportunities, regardless of where they live. "Mexico's children are its ultimate national security," noted the president.

He did not mention paralyzing teachers' strikes which have idled more than a million students in southwestern Mexico, and which threaten to evolve into further work stoppages later this week.

Drug war violence
On the perennial issue of the drug war and domestic security, Peña Nieto insisted that deaths from organized crime violence are falling - almost 14%, he claimed (Peña Nieto alleges major progress in drug war). He made no reference to a report issued late last week by a federal agency, the National Public Security System, which said 12,598 people died in the first eight months of his administration - about 52 every day.

Referring to the capture of at least three prominent drug traffickers in recent weeks, the president once again maintained that his administration is employing a new national security strategy - new as in different from the previous administration of former National Action Party president Felipe Calderón - which he said emphasizes better federal-state coordination and the use of sophisticated intelligence.

But most observers of Mexico's now 81 month old drug war concur that the strategies are virtually identical, focused on the same goal of taking down key narco bosses. Mexican army captures leader of Gulf Cartel.

Last December Peña Nieto's attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, said the country is confronting 60-80 cartels, as well as hundreds of regional and local pandillas (In Guadalajara, 20 local gangs work with organized crime). The president did not address those specifics today.

In a statement which will once again disapprove many predictions from the foreign and domestic press during last year's presidential campaign season, Peña Nieto praised Mexico's military forces and stressed their critical role in providing domestic security - a sure promise that the army will remain at the vanguard of the struggle against narcotics traffickers and organized crime. Human Rights Watch's latest condemnation of Mexican drug war reveals how little it understands conflict.

Addressing the phenomenon of rapidly spreading self-protection units, the president said, "We won't permit anyone to take the law into their own hands." Civilian militias soar, with citizen police now patrolling 50 counties in 13 Mexican states.

He also praised reforms to the law of amparo - a procedure which mirrors the Anglo-American writ of habeas corpus. It was expanded in February to provide more procedural and substantive protections for ordinary citizens. Mexico moves towards greater recognition of legal rights.

The economy
Economic issues were expected to be a key focus of Peña Nieto's address, and they were. But he dismissed many worries with a wave of the hand, not addressing recent reports from Banixco, the country's central bank, and his own secretary of internal revenue and budget planning, both of which described an economy in free fall. Just two weeks ago Hacienda y Crédito Publico secretary Luis Videgaray said 2013 growth through June 30 was a paltry 1.25%, and would likely not exceed 1.8% for the year - a fraction of 2012 economic expansion, and far below the president's own predictions last January for the current year. Sluggish Mexican economy worries foreign investment experts.

Defying reports that investors from abroad are troubled by Mexico's chronically anemic economic growth, president Peña Nieto made the bold if not extraordinary statement that "foreign business sees in Mexico an important partner, where the economy is fundamentally solid." Bank of America Merrill Lynch: Mexico in huge economic hole, with looming "risk of recession."

The president did acknowledge that enterprise credit remains far too tight in Mexico, and promised to continue his efforts to loosen purse strings, to stimulate development and business expansion. As peso continues its slide, Peña Nieto puts a trillion of them on the table.

Last but not least, the president addressed the issue of poverty, especially pobreza alimentaria - the deepest kind of economic want which prevents millions from being able to feed themselves and their families. On July 29 a federal agency reported that 53.3 million of Mexico's 118 million citizens live in chronic poverty. A few days before that, a University of Guadalajara study reported that over over 60% of Jaliscans earn less than a subsistence income. Today Peña Nieto said confronting the scourge of hunger is an "ethical obligation of the nation."

Concluding his address, Peña Nieto told the audience, "Together we are writing Mexico's history."

Sept. 3 - In a nationally broadcast Televisa interview this morning, Mexican attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam praised the boss' speech and insisted that "there is much, much less violence in the country than when we took over nine months ago." The administration is determined to continue marketing that claim, despite much evidence to the contrary from sources within and without the government. They're plainly betting that sooner or later people will start accepting it as a proven fact.

Sept. 5 - Peña Nieto's domestic security strategy is a perfect clone of Calderón's
Sept. 2 - Guardian journalist: U.S. spied on Enrique Peña Nieto before he was elected
Sept. 4 - Enrique Peña Nieto will speak directly to Barack Obama about NSA spying in Mexico

Dec. 19, 2012 - Enrique's challenging homework
Mar. 11, 2013 - Enrique Peña Nieto's three smart decisions
Mar. 30, 2013 - Washington Post has high praise for Enrique Peña Nieto

Poverty, security
Far Left lashes out at "failed" PRI administration
U.S. hypocrisy on legalization poses the question, who is committed to combating drugs?
Mexican Left lambasts poverty war: "a massive failure"
59% of Mexicans remain trapped in underclass
Peña Nieto proceeds with plans for national gendarmerie
Seven of 10 Mexican households report food shortages

Citizen police forces
July 24 - Civilian militias stop Mexican army near Acapulco
May 23 - Fiasco in Michoacán suggests little has changed under new government
Apr. 11 - Mexico's problematic policías comunitarias will prompt some to argue Failed State theories.
Mar. 6 - Peña Nieto's drug war czar says no to Mexican militias

Anti-Peña Nieto rally in Mérida, July 7, 2012 - "Mexicans, wake up and do something for yourselves!"

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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