HomeNewsAnalysisHoneymoon Over for Mexico's President Peña Nieto
ANALYSIS

Honeymoon Over for Mexico's President Peña Nieto

HOMICIDES / 8 APR 2013 BY DUDLEY ALTHAUS EN

Since taking office four months ago, Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto and his subordinates have been working overtime to forge a more hopeful, less blood-tinged conversation about their country. But that conversation may be coming to an end.

At the onset of his administration in December, Mexican and international media were encouraged to downplay the gangland violence, which has claimed 70,000 lives or more in the past six years, in favor of emphasizing all that's still going right with politics and the economy.

For the most part, pundits, prognosticators and private citizens have been lining up to tout "Mexico's moment" -- a new dawn brimming with economic promise and political deal making. Almost everyone has seemed eager to change the channel perhaps, in part, because so many of the local media depend on government ads to survive. 

But the applause was not limited to the Mexican press.

"Some in the Obama administration worry that the new president is diverting resources and focus from the drug war. Yet Mr. Peña Nieto is tackling problems that have held back Mexico for a generation, helping to create the economic misery that empowers the drug cartels," the Washington Post said in a recent editorial. "Washington should be cheering Mexico's gridlock busting -- and taking it as an example."

This came just a few weeks after the New York Times' columnist Thomas Friedman's drooling account of Mexico's would be surge to economic prominence on the world stage. 

"It's as if Mexicans subconsciously decided that their drug-related violence is a condition to be lived with and combated but not something to define them any longer," he wrote in February.

(For a more economic critique of Friedman's column, go here.)

Fair enough. But the gangsters and security forces are still in the field, slaughtering one another apace. And Mexican news organizations, even those thought to be rooting for Peña Nieto, have started returning it to the front pages and top of the news hour.

Milenio, one of Mexico's larger media chains, reported this week that the gangland wars claimed 1,025 people in March and nearly 4,000 since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office on December 1. (See Milenio's graphic below.)

La Jornada, a smaller, left-leaning newspaper, put the tally at more than 2,800 in the past four months, but noted that the numbers "demonstrate that the tendency of executions is rising in the country" compared to last year under former President Felipe Calderon.

"No medium, the Washington Post included, has lauded the Peña Nieto regime for its success in security and the reduction of violence," Ciro Gomez Leyva, director and prime time anchor of Milenio Televisions news programming, wrote in a recent column. "And it seems that praise won't arrive soon.

"The monthly average continues being, in round numbers, the same as in the Calderon administration," Gomez-Leyva wrote.

InSight Crime Analysis

Ignoring the violence is easy. Actually calming the violence is going to take a good while -- in a moment of extreme optimism, Peña Nieto recently suggested that his yet-to-gel security strategy will take a year to show results -- so the new president and his aides can't be blamed for trying to change the focus to something more positive in the meantime.

But at some point, what was the previous administration's "war," will become Peña Nieto's own burden. As Alejandro Hope has written, even if he halves the homicides -- a laudable achievement by any measure -- his party still would be facing mid-term elections with some 45,000 murders under their president's watch.

Still, we should not be surprised. This is the way the Peña's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) works. To be sure, the current public relations blitz mirrors that of two decades ago, when then-PRI-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was pushing hard for the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. Salinas assured any who'd listen -- and plenty did -- that Mexico suddenly was at the threshold of First World prosperity.

That giddy talk ended with the January 1994 Maya peasant uprising in southernmost Chiapas state, followed by the March assassination of Salinas' handpicked successor and the December collapse of the peso and the economy. Mexican consumers and foreign investors alike were ruined by the bursting bubble. Salinas himself fled into self-imposed exile from which he only returned in recent years.

Laudable economic improvements, social advances and political progress indeed are happening even in the most gang-besieged corners of Mexico. And they've largely been ignored as the press and public focused heavily on the violence.

But the bright future that Peña Nieto promises and Mexicans deserve won't be possible until the gangs are brought to heel. And that victory's not going to be won with a public relations blitz. It will be done by actually putting into place a coherent strategy, something that appears far from a reality at this point.

The returning press coverage of the violence suggests the honeymoon may be ending for Peña Nieto. Hopefully that will force the president and his public to focus on what's really going to work.

mexico homicides 0313 milenio

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

KNIGHTS TEMPLAR / 18 MAR 2014

Following the arrest of the nephew of a Knights Templar leader suspected of organ trafficking, officials in Mexico have reported…

MEXICO / 17 APR 2014

A new report examines the clamor over insecurity and the government's insufficient response in Mexico's largest state, and finds…

MEXICO / 15 SEP 2011

The north Mexico state of Nuevo Leon has established a new civil police force which is set to take over…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…