THE ECONOMIST, 08 de Diciembre de 2012
“IT IS time to get Mexico moving,” declared Enrique Peña Nieto (pictured) on December 1st in his first speech as the country’s president. As an audience of politicians and diplomats stood to applaud his inaugural address in the national palace, masked youths smashed the windows of banks and hotels a few blocks away. The Alameda park, recently reopened after a $20m facelift, was daubed in graffiti denouncing the new government.
The return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ran Mexico in authoritarian style for seven decades until 2000, was always likely to attract protests. A handful of congressmen loyal to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-winger who came second in July’s election, heckled Mr Peña as he took the oath of office, claiming (with no evidence) that he had stolen victory. Attacked on the street and lacking a majority in both houses of Congress, can Mexico’s new president get anything done?
The political conditions are more promising than the disorder might suggest. In his first full day in office Mr Peña unveiled a “Pact for Mexico” of 95 loosely defined proposals, signed by the leaders of all three main parties. He had long expected the qualified support of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), which governed for the past 12 years and shares many of the PRI’s economic ideas. The real coup was the last-minute signature of the leader of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which backed Mr López Obrador’s candidacy. Many of its members remain implacably opposed to Mr Peña. But its leaders and state governors seem willing to work with him. Presidential aides reckon they can do business with more than half the congressmen from the PRD and smaller left-wing parties.
Mr Peña’s cabinet has similarly tripartisan touches. Most of its members are either youngish PRI technocrats or party stalwarts who served in cabinets in the 1990s (and in one case the 1980s). But it also includes José Antonio Meade, finance minister in the outgoing government, as foreign secretary. And two PAN-era finance officials have been given jobs. The left is represented by Rosario Robles, a former leader of the PRD, who has been given the powerful social-development ministry. Manuel Mondragón, the police chief in PRD-run Mexico City who was slated to serve in a López Obrador cabinet, will be in charge of public security.
Mr Peña made a name for himself as a governor with lists of promises—a bridge here, a new library there—ticking them off one by one before television cameras. His presidency is taking a similar shape. In his inaugural address he announced 13 proposals for the first weeks of his government. Some were small but eye-catching, such as the reintroduction of inter-city passenger trains. Others suggest he may be preparing to take on some of the vested interests that have long stifled Mexico, thanks in large part to the connivance of PRI governments in the past. Two new television channels will be auctioned within months, breaking the duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca.
He also announced plans to take on the teachers’ union, a fearsome organisation that long enjoyed a cosy relationship with the PRI. Mexico’s schools are the worst in the OECD, a club of mainly rich countries, largely because the union controls teacher recruitment and training. The president says he wants to professionalise training and to ban hereditary teaching jobs (that this is considered radical gives an idea of the fight ahead). He has appointed Emilio Chuayffet, a no-nonsense interior minister of the 1990s, as education secretary, to take on Elba Esther Gordillo, the gorgon at the head of the teaching mafia.
There were few details on the fiscal and energy reforms that Mr Peña has long touted, which could add around 1.5 percentage points to annual economic growth. The president’s speech and the pact were both full of spending promises but silent on how to pay for them. Mr Peña promised a pension for all over-65s and life insurance for single mothers, as well as wider access to secondary school and university, with scholarships for poor children. The government’s strategy is to “get a lot of carrots ready to exchange for a tax reform”, says Héctor Villarreal of the Centre for Economic and Budgetary Research (CIEP), a think-tank. The education plans alone could cost 84 billion pesos ($6.5 billion) a year, CIEP reckons. Luis Videgaray, the finance minister, has promised “no new taxes” next year; that suggests broadening existing ones, such as VAT.
As for energy reform, Mr Peña barely mentioned it in his address. The pact talks more of improving Pemex, the state oil monopoly, than of subjecting it to competition. Ownership and control of Pemex and the country’s hydrocarbons “will remain in the hands of the nation, via the state,” it says. Getting the PRD to agree to anything else would probably have been impossible. A new law next year will show how far these agreements can be stretched.
On violent crime, the other pressing issue facing Mexico, Mr Peña plans to merge the public-security secretariat into a new and bigger interior ministry, charged with co-ordinating the fight against the drug mafias and making citizens safer. He will set up a new rural gendarmerie, and offered a waffly crime-prevention plan and the promise of extra troops. He also proposed a constitutional reform to create a single national penal code, abolishing 31 state codes. That may be politically hard. Mexico City allows abortion, for example, but it is a crime in most states. Several previous presidents have tried and failed to unify the criminal codes.
Mr Peña must present a budget by December 15th, for Congress to vote on by the end of the month. Before Christmas he also hopes to secure approval for his enlarged interior ministry, which was held up by objections in the Senate. Then he will have to turn the rest of the pact into legislation. Agreeing to a set of policy goals is one thing; determining who should pay for them may prove trickier.