Foreign Policy / Mexico

Mexico in shock: The aftermath of Peña’s first 100 days in power.

It has been 100 days since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in Mexico, restoring the Partido Revolucionario Institucional ‘s (PRI) seventy-year rule after a brief twelve-year pause. Today Mexico is in shock, not by the number of deaths and criminal incidents that still harass the Mexican population on a daily basis, but because several reforms and actions that were once thought impossible now seem likely to happen.

The party of “dinosaurs” has just regained power in Mexico and seized the presidential chair in an election that is still highly controversial. Though the Peña Nieto campaign focused on showing “the new face” of the PRI, now led by new and young people, Mexicans had few reasons to believe in such changes when, behind the curtains, the party was still ran by some of the same figures like Carlos Salinas de Gortari. However, the first 100 days of Peña Nieto’s term have managed to awaken an apathetic civil society and defy the opposition.

In February, the union leader Elba Esther Gordillo was apprehended. Immediately after the news was released, thousands of shocked Mexican voices used the internet and social networks to express their joy. And their joy was warranted – Gordillo had been the greatest expression of a broken and corrupt system that allows the few to get extremely rich at the country’s expense. “La Maestra”, as they call her in Mexico, was accused of stealing over 120 million Euros from the federal budget. Though impressive, most Mexicans believe the amount to be small compared to what she could have stolen during the twenty years she was Mexico’s most powerful woman. Gordillo had operated a selfishly lucrative business with the people’s taxes and the government’s institutions while presidents came and left office, with no strength or real will to even try to confront this powerful political figure. Meanwhile, the poor public education system in Mexico collapsed and held back the country’s development, progress and competitiveness.

Imprisoning Elba Esther was perhaps, one of the bravest and boldest actions Peña Nieto could have taken in his first 100 days in office, considering the political costs and, of course, the series of arrangements and interests he probably had to settle and satisfy before taking that step. This could be a promising start for reforms that hope to eradicate the union-dominated education system, which, until this year, had expensive and privileged teaching positions that could be sold or inherited.

And just when the national euphoria of Gordillo’s apprehension was starting to wear off, Peña Nieto made public his goal of structural telecommunications reform. Such a project intends to destroy the monopolistic practices of Televisa, Tv Azteca and Telmex. With this action, Peña Nieto is doing something thought unimaginable by his party: cutting the benefits of its own supporters. It is also a very well thought out move, since it directly addresses the demands of some of his greatest critics that have accused Peña Nieto of engaging in illicit practices with Televisa. The network was accused of giving preference to Nieto during his campaign by censoring and manipulating information to give the party popularity and advantage over its political rivals.

The bold actions taken by Peña Nieto in his first 100 days of power have certainly shocked many. The lack of credibility of the political figures has made Mexicans doubt that campaign proposals would ever be carried out. Therefore, not many were truly expecting Peña Nieto to do what he is actually doing.

However, the glowing first 100 days of Peña should not blind the Mexican people. It is important to keep in mind that for the President, this is all part of a greater project of restoring faith and credibility in his party, which has the most damaged image and reputation in Mexico. Although these reforms sound promising and have given signs of actually implementing actions that lead to structural changes, the number of murders, the climate of insecurity, the everyday threat drug cartels pose, and the alarming situation of poverty of half of the population are still harsh realities that are likely to persist in the following years.

Whether these reforms translate into progress and the actions taken do actually impact the country’s political life is yet to be seen. For now, the PRI is doing an excellent job in elaborating a viable and “fair” project to reestablish credibility in the party. One thing is certain: Peña Nieto has shocked a still incredulous Mexican population that might be on its way to giving Peña’s party a second chance in the following 100 days.