Monday, July 2, 2012

Mexico’s PRI Party Wins Back the Presidency

Enrique Peña Nieto won Mexico’s presidential election on Sunday with a smaller-than-expected 38 percent of the vote, bringing his party back to power after 12 years away.

Many in Mexico had been apprehensive about the return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which stifled dissent and was accused of corruption during the seven decades it held Mexico’s presidency, which ended in 2000. In his victory speech, Peña Nieto claimed that he had made a break from the party’s old ways, saying "We're a new generation. There is no return to the past," reports the AP.

He declared that the party would not make deals with organized crime, something that is associated with the PRI’s long reign. The New York Times points out that his mandate is not unequivocal, with support trailing in the states worst-hit by violence, and says that Washington will be keeping a close eye for any hint that his government is slacking in the fight against organized crime. Representative Michael McCaul, (Rep, Texas) released a statement saying ““I am hopeful that he will not return to the PRI party of the past, which was corrupt and had a history of turning a blind eye to the drug cartels.”

Despite his efforts to project an air of change, Peña Nieto retains close ties to the party’s old guard, as set out in a report by Southern Pulse, featured on InSight Crime, which maps the president-elect’s most important relationships. According to Southern Pulse, he was propelled to power by two factions of the party, one of them led by former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and has links to individuals including former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon, who is accused of working with the Tijuana Cartel and carrying out various murders.

Preliminary results showed the winner only seven points ahead of his closest rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist PRD party, despite polls last week giving Peña Nieto a 17-point lead. Lopez Obrador has still not conceded, bringing back memories of the very tight 2006 vote, where he refused to recognize Felipe Calderon’s victory and ran a shadow government in Mexico City for many months.

The candidate of the ruling PAN party conceded shortly after polls closed, with initial counts showing her at 26 percent.

The NYT said voters’ unhappiness with the status quo was responsible for the PRI’s return to power, as well as the party's strong electoral machinery, and Peña Nieto’s youth and strong TV presence. Another piece in the newspaper points to concerns about the economy as equally or more important to voters than drug fuelled crime. One factory owner told the NYT, "We were all hoping for real change with Fox. [the PAN president who took over when the PRI lost power in 2000] It didn’t happen."

The Wall Street Journal highlights the dramatic nature of Peña Nieto’s story; “The unlikely rise of a handsome young man who overcomes tragedy to be elected the president of Mexico sounds like a script for [a] wildly popular Spanish-language soap [opera].”

InSight Crime says that the fact the elections passed without any major acts of violence does not necessarily mean that drug gangs did not exert their influence - “the criminal groups may have developed a better idea of how to surreptitiously put their thumb on the electoral scale.” See InSight’s map of violence in the run-up to the vote.

The NYT has a slideshow of images from the vote

News Briefs

  • A 22-year-old US citizen working as an intern for the Associated Press was found dead in an elevator shaft near his home in Mexico City on Saturday. Armando Montano, resident of Colorado, arrived in the Mexican capital in June, and had covered stories including the recent shooting of federal police at the city’s airport. He was not on assignment at the time of his death, reports the AP. Police are investigating.
  • The Washington Post reports on the fallout from the removal of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo from power last month, with the ousted leader telling the paper he considers it was a coup. It has stirred reactions from countries across the region, with some leaders “warning that a new kind of coup, one dressed up in a legal veneer, could emerge as a danger to the democratic order.” Paraguay has been dismissed from Mercosur, which provided an unexpected victory to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez; “His country on Friday was admitted to Mercosur, a foreign policy priority that for years had been blocked by Paraguay’s Congress.”
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the WSJ slams the “imperialists” who have described the recent crisis in Paraguay as a “coup,” namely the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina. She also has criticism for Brazil, Colombia and the US for failing to recognize the new president, especially as Brazil joined those calling it a coup. For O’Grady, Lugo’s impeachment was legal, and carried out within the bounds set by the constitution. Meanwhile, at the Miami Herald, Andres Oppenheimer argues that Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other countries in the region share the blame for events in Paraguay, as their “selective defense of democracy” has created an environment of “anything goes” in the region; “My opinion: The ouster of Lugo was wrong, and — although not as clearly unconstitutional as the 2009 coup in Honduras — deserves the region’s condemnation.”
  • The Paraguayan crisis took place days before the third anniversary of the coup against Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya. Central American Politics reports that on Sunday supporters of the ousted president will select Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya to be presidential candidate of the Libre Party. It says that the “muddled US response” to events in Paraguay suggests that the US hasn’t got better at “defending democracy and the rule of law in the region.”
  • The Miami Herald gives an overview of how Chavez’s health problems are affecting Venezuela’s October presidential elections, saying that the president seems desperate to stay in power despite his ill health. It says that dire predictions that he has terminal cancer and will die before the vote “have only served to distract the opposition, which is running behind in most surveys, and firm up Chávez’s base,” according to one polling firm. “The opposition has gotten trapped in the president’s pelvis,” said Oscar Schemel of Hinterlaces. “And I think all these gloomy analyses are going to fall short.”
  • The US Coast Guard seized 3,800 pounds of cocaine, worth $48 million, in a series of recent operations in the Caribbean under Operation Martillo, which increases cooperation with governments in the region, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The Washington Post looks at a new Colombian TV series on Pablo Escobar, the famed drug lord who was gunned down by law enforcement in the 1990s, which it says could be a form of catharsis for the country.
  • The WSJ looks at Costa Rica’s efforts to reform its “quirky” address system, which is based on distances from landmarks. "If I didn't say '75 meters west of the general cemetery,' I would say 'across from the wholesale fruit market,'" said the head of public works in San Jose about his office, explaining that people wouldn’t understand if you told them it was at the corner of 10th Avenue and 28th Street. The country is thought to lose out on $720 million in revenue a year due to the confusion.
  • Argentine photographer Horacio Coppola has died at 105, reports the NYT.

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