New Mexican President Peña Nieto Vows to Fight Drug Cartels and Help Plight of Millennials


On Sunday night, Mexico’s president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, gave an outstanding victory speech after it was announced he had won the national election. His pose was triumphant, his voice was solemn, and his crowd was euphoric. 

In contrast, the social networks were filled with messages of despair, disillusionment and frustration. I speak mostly of young adults and students who engaged in the past five weeks in an urban grassroots movement known as #132. They’ve been organizing public demonstrations against Peña Nieto’s candidacy and his formerly-hegemonic party, the PRI. Two days ago, in their massive demonstration in downtown Mexico City, surrounded by the immense presidential palace and the monumental national cathedral, #132 delivered a very critical speech that called for various reforms, mostly on the issue of media broadcasts oligopoly. They also called for social and economic reforms (however they barely mentioned political reforms) with strong left-wing content. 

I was there that night; the night where the #132 movement lost my support after I heard what they had to say. The content was an outdated socialist ideology that belonged more to the 20th century than to contemporary Mexico’s reality. These were the people lamenting the Sunday night results in the social networks. The contrast with Peña Nieto’s victory speech is remarkable. He is going to be the president of Mexico for a six-year term, and unless the #132 movement changes its outdated leftist rhetoric, the grass-roots movement's impact in the upcoming years might be negligible.

Of Peña Nieto’s speech, two things strike me as unexpected. First, he said “society’s expressions have taken a new impulse in the voices of the youth; I share their longings, and understand their complaints.” This is an obvious reference to the #132 movement. He also said “I hear the students, but also those who could not continue their studies, those who do not find a job, those who work hard to make their families move on.” The youth movement was among the harshest criticizers of Peña Nieto and the PRI. Now he is offering them his hand in a cunning move to neutralize their growing vigor. He has left them temporarily without an effective argument against him. If they insist, their discourse can be seen as callow by the wider electorate. In a way, Peña Nieto has put the #132 movement in a situation in which they will not be able to act unless he acts first; a very smart move.

Second, Peña Nieto made an unprecedented declaration to fight organized crime with a new strategy different from president Calderon’s, but with a headlong attitude nonetheless. This is an extraordinary statement given the fact that he avoided the issue of security duringthe campaign, giving reasons for some, in Mexico and the U.S. alike, to think he might return to the old policy of collaborating with the drug cartels, as the PRI used to do when it was the hegemonic party. If he is being sincere on this, then it means his ambiguity regarding the security issue was nothing but a campaign strategy of prudence, given the levels of violence the war against the drug cartels has brought to Mexico. If he is not being sincere, then this might be a strategy to obfuscate what might come to be an agreement between cartels and the government to stop the violence.

My intuition tells me that the second option is unlikely, basically because there is a horrible war already taking place between the cartels independent of the government’s interference. If we add six years of reforms in the security forces, an already-strong involvement from the military to suppress organized crime, and the America's direct interests in the situation, then a scenario of collaboration between Peña Nieto and the drug cartels might look impossible. We don’t know yet what this declaration might mean in the future, but the sole fact that he stated it with such conviction means something different than what his campaign message made us believe.

Peña Nieto’s speech is the proof of a cunning politician. He temporarily neutralized the youth movement by offering them a truce after his victory, and stated unexpectedly that he will fight organized crime as aggressively as Calderon did. 

However Peña Nieto won only by a 38% margin of victory which some critics have interpreted as a fact that62% of the population voted against him. This is, of course, faulty reasoning, because we don’t know how the results would have turned out if there would have only been two candidates instead of three. But the truth remains that the president of Mexico was elected by a small majority, an outcome that, understandingly, creates frustration among the electorate, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the system.

Peña Nieto’s victory means a return of the PRI to power, after 12 years of PAN. Many are afraid that he will reestablish the hegemony of the 20th century. However, Mexico has changed. It is beginning its history of competitive elections. This might come about with a radical change in the PRI’s ways of making politics. If this is the case, fears that Mexico might be living a regression to the “perfect dictatorship” are unfounded, and so much pessimism might not be warranted.