Monday, December 3, 2012

Peña Nieto Promises Change, Protesters Fear Return to Past

Mexico’s new President Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated on Saturday against a backdrop of fierce clashes between police and protesters who oppose the return of his PRI party.

Hundreds took to the streets in Mexico City to protest against the PRI, which held the presidency for 71 years until 2000, and ran the country as an effective single party state. The demonstrators threw petrol bombs and vandalized shops, reports the Associated Press, and some 29 were hospitalized, amid clashes with police armed with tear gas. Peña Nieto opponents have claimed that he purchased the election through voter handouts.

There were also anti-Peña Nieto sentiment on display in Congress, where representatives protested against him, brandishing with a banner saying "Imposition accomplished, Mexico in mourning." As he took his oath of office, “supporters chanted 'Mexico! Mexico!' drowning out wailing whistles of disapproval from leftist lawmakers,” reports the AFP.

The PRI party is trying to reassure the public that it will not bring about a regression to the past, representing itself as “a new, chastened party bent on promoting efficiency and economic change,” even choosing not to hold a public celebration to mark the inauguration, as the New York Times points out.

The new president worked to give the message that the PRI’s return would not mean a return to autocracy, declaring “I will run an open government that speaks with honesty, seeks opinions, listens to its citizens.” He also said that he would work to improve security, saying "My government's first aim will be to bring peace to Mexico," as the BBC reports.

However, the president has strong links to the traditional wing of his party. His choices for his cabinet represent “a mixture of young technocrats and familiar faces from PRI governments of the 1990s,” as the Economist Americas View blog reports. It notes that the post of Interior Minister, to be held by former Hidalgo Governor Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, will be especially important, as Peña Nieto intends the Interior Ministry to absorb the Public Security Ministry. For the NYT, the cabinet relied mostly on “PRI stalwarts, including five former governors. But he also placed several foreign-educated technocrats from his inner circle.”

The Washington Post said that the president’s speech set out “an ambitious agenda of reform,” promising to improve the education and justice systems, as well as the economy, and make Mexico “the magnificent place it deserves to be.”

Americas Quarterly sets out the top challenges for Peña Nieto, while Bloggings by Boz looks at the legacy of outgoing President Felipe Calderon.

News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a law to redistribute oil royalties to non-producing states, but vetoed a part that would apply to oil wells already in production. This section had been strongly opposed by Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states, with Rio’s government warning that the state could go bankrupt before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, the BBC reports. The country reported disappointing GDP growth of only 0.6 percent in the third quarter, half of what was expected by economists, the NYT reports. The newspaper points to the need to address structural problems, including “byzantine bureaucracy and woeful public schools.”
  • The WSJ has a piece arguing that growth rates have been more lasting in Latin American countries that have followed free market policies, like Colombia and Mexico, than those which have increased the state’s role in the economy, like Brazil and Ecuador.
  • The NYT has an opinion piece on the recent outbreak of violence in Sao Paulo, where repressive policing methods have sparked a series of retaliatory killings of police officers. It points out that low-ranking officers make the easiest target for criminal gangs, as they often live in the same neighborhoods as criminals, making them very vulnerable when they are off-duty, to the point that some ry to conceal their profession. Graham Denyer Willis calls on the authorities to increase police wages and remove barriers to advancement for officers who have less education.
  • A report from Brazil’s Presidential Bureau to Promote Racial Equality found a massive discrepancy in the murder rates of white and Afro-descendant Brazilians, with a rate of 15.5 per 100,000 for white people and 36 for black people, rising to 72 per 100,000 for black citizens aged 12-21, reports EFE. See full report here.
  • In Rio de Janeiro, hundreds marched in protest against plans to privatize the city’s Maracana stadium, which has been undergoing renovation for the World Cup and Olympics. Many of the protesters were from indigenous groups that object to the destruction of an indigenous museum on the stadium grounds, reports the BBC.
  • Speaking in Havana, where the FARC is holding peace talks with the government, a rebel representative said that the group was still holding “prisoners of war” who would be handed over, reports El Nuevo Herald. Following the comments, President Juan Manuel Santos set a deadline of November 2013 for talks to be completed, reports the BBC.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on the Colombian authorities to act after journalist Guillermo Quiroz died of injuries he received while in police custody in the northern Sucre province. Police reported that he had been injured falling from their vehicle. Three officers have been suspended in connection with the case.
  • William Neuman reports for the NYT on the Colombian government’s efforts to return displaced people to their land.
  • In Paraguay, land activist Vidal Vega was shot dead by men riding a motorbike. He was a leader of the landless campesino movement whose bloody clash with police precipitated the ousting of President Fernando Lugo in June. The movement told the AP that Vega might have been killed in order to impede their fight for land.
  • The NYT looks at the battle between Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and media company Grupo Clarin, as the December 7 deadline for the group to sell off many of its assets approaches. The conflict relates back to “festering official resentment” over the group’s power to form public opinion, according to the NYT. The group contends that Kirchner is attacking it as part of a plot to change the constitution to stay in office for a third term, for which she needs an obedient media. Reporters Without Borders issued a statement warning of an increase in attacks on journalists in Argentina’s increasingly polarized climate.
  • The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council warned of serious threats to the independence of the judiciary in El Salvador, following the constitutional crisis that took place there earlier this year. Gabriela Knaul said that the legislative assembly’s appeal to the Central American Court of Justice against a decision of the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber showed a “profound disrespect” for the chamber, as Tim’s El Salvador Blog reports.
  • Damien Cave at the NYT asks how capitalist Cuban citizens are, following reforms to allow more private enterprise.
  • There were reports Sunday that John McAfee, a US software tycoon who went on the run from police seeking him in connection with the murder of another US citizen in Belize, had been captured on the Mexico-Belize border. The NYT has a report, published before the reports, on the man who “has turned lamming it into a kind of high-tech performance art.”
  • The NYT reports from the Mexico-Arizona border, where tightened security has made it harder and harder for Mexicans to cross going north, hurting businesses in the US.

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