Peña Nieto Tells TIME: I Want to Make Mexico an Emerging Power Again

It will be almost five months before Enrique Peña Nieto is sworn in as Mexico's new President. But will it be enough time for him to figure out what to do with the country's dire economic and security problems?

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Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

Enrique Peña Nieto attends a PRI rally in Tepeaca, Puebla, Mexico

Enrique Peña Nieto was elected Mexico’s next President on July 1. But the big news was that he brought his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico as a corrupt, one-party dictatorship from 1929 to 2000, back to power. That has raised questions about Mexico’s fledgling democracy — concerns that the youthful Peña Nieto, 45, insists are unfounded — its limp economy and the direction the country will take in its war with powerful drug cartels, which has seen more than 55,000 murders since 2006. Peña Nieto, who takes office on Dec. 1, spoke with TIME’s Tim Padgett and Dolly Mascareñas shortly before his victory. Excerpts:

You call yourself the PRI’s “new face,” and many political analysts credit you with progressive administration when you were Mexico state Governor from 2005–11, but critics say you’re simply a good-looking front man for the PRI’s corrupt, antidemocratic old guard, its so-called dinosaurios.
I think that comparison itself is part of an antidemocratic campaign. Democracy demands the presence and participation of all distinct political forces, and the PRI is a live political force that’s still in touch with Mexican society and a large base of support that can’t be ignored. The PRI has eminently changed because Mexico has changed. This is another Mexico today, a democratic culture, and we’re competing strongly again precisely because our proposals promise even more change in Mexico.

There is also concern, especially in the U.S., that you intend to go soft on drug trafficking, as the PRI was accused of doing in the 20th century.
I want to signal very clearly that there will be no truce or deals with either organized crime or drug trafficking. We’re going to combat it with a frontal assault. One of the most important reforms we want to achieve is rule of law in Mexico, building confidence in those institutions.

Yet many suggest your own campaign rhetoric downplays drug interdiction and indicates a changed strategy.
Without a doubt, the priority, the strategy we have to adjust, is reducing violence. And that violence unfortunately is partly a result of the [military] strategy that the government [of current President Felipe Calderón] has been following. We can’t continue that way. So we’re going to follow a strategy focused on three central crimes: murder, kidnapping and extortion. But make no mistake, it’s our duty to finish off the organized crime gangs, including drug traffickers.

Your other big challenge is an economy that has averaged a disappointing 2% growth since 2000.
Mexico urgently needs a series of structural reforms that will detonate its true economic potential and generate more public welfare. Energy, labor, tax and social-security reforms are imperative.

Does that include confronting business monopolies, some of which control as much as 95% of Mexico’s markets, that also choke that economic potential?
Yes, that’s part of the structural reform, including the special antitrust courts I’ve proposed.

On energy reform, you’ve proposed a constitutional amendment to allow private and even foreign investment in Mexico’s state-run oil monopoly, Pemex. Why is that so key in your mind to reactivating growth?
The world is changing, and Mexico can no longer remain behind [national oil companies like Brazil’s Petrobras] in that regard. We have to augment Pemex’s production capacity, and to do that we have to allow more private-sector participation without losing the Mexican state’s proprietary stake.

Washington obviously likes that idea. But can you also be successful dealing with the U.S. on issues like immigration?
I want to initiate a bilateral agenda that helps Mexico and the U.S. together compete with the world better, especially with the economies of Asia and the Pacific. A big part of that has to be immigration reform, to create more sensible and dignified flows of labor that make necessary contributions to both our economies, and I’m going to do everything in my power to promote it.

The other controversial bilateral flow is high-powered guns smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. Can you get Washington to act more strongly on that problem as well?
I hope we can develop more collaboration on border security issues like that, the kind of collaboration that respects Mexico’s sovereignty.

At the World Economic Forum this year, you complained that Mexico seems to have lost its leadership role in Latin America and the world. What will you do to recover it?
Lamentably, Mexico’s image in the world has deteriorated in recent years, from both the violence and the stalled economy. Those problems have left us with a wobbly foreign policy. One of the big goals of my administration will be to reposition Mexico again as an emerging power. That means I have to focus on recovering peace and reactivating economic growth, but Mexico also has to be more proactive in the international scene, commensurate with its demographic, economic and cultural weight.

Mexican voters were pretty mad at the PRI when they finally voted it out of power 12 years ago. Why are they coming back?
Our energy proposal is a good example. It’s going to benefit Mexicans, but the [political] right hasn’t been able to get it done, and the left opposes it. I’m the leader of the only political force in Mexico that can get things done right now.

18 comments
Carlos Lobato
Carlos Lobato

Is very surprising that the media is ignoring the fact that he won with CORRUPTION... is so obvious that he bought VOTES with DRUG-MONEY.  The poor people in Mexico obviously don't have a voice.

Gishine
Gishine

Obrador has been for years leading a huge crowd into anti-corruption practices, which is not in favor of the big corrupt powers in Mexico. Enrique Pena Nieto  represents all of that,  and HIS/Televisa/IFE  Elections are the proof of this. 

Mirna G. Mota
Mirna G. Mota

Sounds like another petrodollars deal is being schemed by the old oligarchy and their puppet, Penanieto.  'Tis sad that mexicans don't remember, probably the ones that do remember are the ones who had to run away, and now are too comfortable sitting in their comfy houses and have more than good enough jobs in the US, so we don't really care anymore.   The PRI is the cartels, otherwise violence would not have erupted as it did after the PRI was ousted.  Local governments being controlled by other parties could not keep the old deals in place and the old cartel has been competing with emerging cartels and their own fractured organization springing up individually.  The fact that electoral fraud took place is not a deterrent to the PRI, they have a telegenic puppet who is married to a famous soap opera, who are favored by Televisa, the network that controls over 70% of mx audience.  Who cares that Penanieto used violence in Atenco? who will care that he plans to create a paramilitary police based upon the Colombia model? in the end, these paramilitaries will end up killing indigenous peoples, poor farmers in search of the 'big fish,' or the PRI cartel's enemy.  Poor mexico, its only hope really lies in the protesters, who erroneously believe that peaceful resistance will bring change. It's a start though.. what my grandparents did not dare to do because they were happy believers in the revolutionary party established based upon the beliefs of the revolution, what my parents did not do because they were too busy trying to figure out how to survive in a corrupt society where palancas were needed to hold any job, and what I did not do because, in the end my parents had to leave mexico to survive, and I ended up growing in another country, this new generation is daring to do.  They bring me hope, but sadly in the end, they won't accomplish anything.  Nothing good will come out of the return to Jurassic Mexico, the dinosaurs planned their return well... just as they did in the past.  Really, it's not a coincidence that so many state government posts happened to be electing governors, congresspersons and representatives--- and the vast majority ended up being PRI wins.

Paula Gomez
Paula Gomez

BS. This idiot did not win the presidency. His party (the PRI) bought it. They cheated,  intimidated and  pushed people to vote for them. In many cases, people were threaten to lose their jobs if they didn't vote for Pena Nieto. They even utilized children to spy on their parents. Also, millions of people were not even allowed to vote. Mexican Constitution asks for the vote to be free and secret, and it was nothing like that. Millions of people are outraged in Mexico, and the media continues on keeping their mouths shut.  

sebasgnaedig
sebasgnaedig

Was the original interview in Spanish? Because this so-called elected president can barely speak -let alone write- in English! How could Mexico become an emerging power again (which I don't remember when that was by the way) if our "president" can't even communicate in the language World leaders do? He's not even gone once out to the streets to celebrate with the country that supposedly voted for him. Instead, we've had constant and massive demonstrations against him throughout the country, not just in leftist Mexico City. It's an insult and a horrible irony the way he's proposing to end with some of Mexico's cancers. Cancers that the PRI, his "truly renovated" party, helped create during those 70 UNINTERRUPTED years in power. 

Michael Herz D' Millan
Michael Herz D' Millan

it's really hard to believe all the things that man said... one living here hear a lot of stuff about him...that he won  by buying all the votes and that the biggest tv companies help him in his campaign besides that IFE (Federal Electoral Institute) cover up all the fraud around the votes...that's all the rumors are around here about his "clean victory" so you can't tell if he actually is planning to do all that plans for a "better Mexico" :/

Alejandro Fierro Vidal
Alejandro Fierro Vidal

I didn´t even bother reading what this individual has to say.  Just a telegenic facade that through massive network brainwashing and groceries handing could convince the poor and the needy to vote for him.

jdoe_user
jdoe_user

He is in power because of corruption, people were not allowed to vote. Nobody recognizes him as the president. There are campaigns around the country trying to show that the elections was a fraud.

jdoe_user
jdoe_user

Why is the media ignoring the fact that many people were not allowed to vote on this elections? They are ignoring the manifestations against this government. People don't want him as the president and they don't want to go back to the PRI!!!

guccy
guccy

yes mexico can change ..

is a big challenge ..how a emerging country like mexico can overcame such corruption? with the millions and millions of active drug users from the north continent  funding the most violent criminals providing them with high tech weapons  leaving women and children in the hands of mass murders..who is accountable for this ?..

arturomty1
arturomty1

To the Tim Padgett: 

His name is Enrique not Eduardo as you wrote on the first line of the subtitle of your article. And the smuggling of high-powered guns and assault riffles is from the USA into Mexico not the other way as you wrote. 

Aside from these two mistakes on the article, the big and real mistake is having this corrupt, fake and front-man to the PRI's corrupt leaders behind the scenes as the new president of a country that is projected to be the 7th biggest economy by 2020 according to Goldman Sachs.

joewat
joewat

If he truly wants to make Mexico an 'emerging' power again he has to change MANY if not all of the government policies that make it so, so, so difficult to invest in Mexico.  Than Mexico can retain many of its citizens that seek work in the USA, they wouldn't need to work as mules or drug runners; even as landscapers and cooks.  Mexico is in bad shape and needs help, I highly doubt (though hope) the old party can do anything...

Marc Jolibois
Marc Jolibois

Well Paula Gomez, the statement: "

They even utilized children to spy on their parents" seems inaccurate to me or I should say an outright lie. "millions of people were not even allowed to vote" is another one. It does not help Mexico at all,  going out and yell up a bunch of lies as you have done.  I am a Mexican and the vote was free and secret. If you say otherwise, please let us know where and exactly when you saw that. I voted for Josefina, however, I know people who voted for Pena Nieto, so please Paula document yourself.....

Tim Padgett
Tim Padgett

We apologize for those two mistakes, which have since been corrected.