Peña Nieto enters fourth year as one of Mexico’s most criticized presidents


MEXICO CITY — After assuming the top office three years ago with extremely high expectations from the electorate, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto reaches the midpoint of his administration as one of the country’s most controversial presidents in recent memory.

In his address to the nation on Tuesday Dec. 1, Peña Nieto even took the unusual approach of thanking his constituents for their criticisms, which have been plentiful on matters as diverse as security, the economy and corruption, among others.

His administration has been rocked by scandal (the so-called “White House” acquired by his wife), allegations of government complicity in the still-unresolved disappearance of 43 teachers college students in 2014, and criticisms of his performance in managing Mexico’s still shaky economy.


On the security front, these three years have been turbulent, probably more so than the President wanted or expected. His fans would probably point to the decline in homicides. His critics, to Ayotzinapa or Joaquin El Chapo Guzman’s escape.

Homicides are down significantly since 2012, but the past year has seen a modest rebound. Overall, 65,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since Peña Nieto took office. The homicide rate is still double the level receded in 2007 (and 4.5 times the comparable US rate).

Reported kidnappings have certainly fallen since 2013, but that might reflect declining trust in the authorities, not fewer abductions.

On human rights, the administration has been sharply criticized for suspected government complicity in grave human rights violations.

The president’s much-touted Gendarmerie comes under fire for lackluster crimefighting results, and one year after its creation, the government is already cutting its budget. Police reform has stalled. The Federal Attorney General’s Office is still disorganized. Prisons are in disarray.

The administration failed in the attempt to “change the narrative”. Since Ayotzinapa, crime and violence have dominated the national headlines. And El Chapo’s escape reinforced the association of the Mexico brand with corruption and impunity.

And on the eve of his fourth year, Peña Nieto’s administration has invited even more controversy by calling for a national public debate on legalizing marijuana. But the president himself came out strongly against legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, the same day his government announced the issue would be priority.

“I am not in favor of consuming or legalizing marijuana,” Peña Nieto said at a speech announcing a child welfare program. “I am not in favor because it has been proven, demonstrated, that consuming this substance damages the health of children and youths.”

“However, I am in favor of debate, so that specialists can give us some indication of where we should be going,” he said.

Earlier, Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced that the government will open a national debate on the use of marijuana, with public sessions to be held in the second half of January. Some debates will be held at four regional forums, and would also be available on the Internet.

The debate will focus on public policy, health and social impact. Mexico has decriminalized possession of very small amounts of marijuana, but activists want to go further, moving toward legalizing recreational and medical uses of the drug.





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