Skip to main content

Is Peña Nieto good news for Mexico?

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
July 3, 2012 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Thousands of protesters take to the streets in Mexico City on Monday, a day after the presidential election results were announced. Supporters of the opposition candidate were rallying against Enrique Peña Nieto, who declared victory late Sunday. Thousands of protesters take to the streets in Mexico City on Monday, a day after the presidential election results were announced. Supporters of the opposition candidate were rallying against Enrique Peña Nieto, who declared victory late Sunday.
HIDE CAPTION
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
Tensions follow Mexico election
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Projections show Enrique Peña Nieto of PRI will become Mexico's next president
  • Ruben Navarrette: Mexicans are aware that the PRI may be as corrupt as ever
  • He says voters can overlook PRI's legacy of corruption if the party can provide security
  • Navarrette: We'll have to wait and see if Peña Nieto will be a good leader for Mexico

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego (CNN) -- They're baaaaack. With apologies to Mark Twain, it seems that rumors of the death of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party were greatly exaggerated.

In fact, I probably wrote that obituary myself, more than once. That's how it looked in 2000, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as PRI, lost the presidency to Vicente Fox of the National Action Party, or PAN. It seemed even more certain in 2006, when the PRI came in a distant third in the presidential election among the three major parties, behind both the conservative PAN and the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, known as PRD. It seemed that the PRI, which controlled the presidency for 71 years and became synonymous with violence and corruption, was on the road to extinction.

But the party has made a comeback. As expected, the top vote getter in Mexico's presidential election on Sunday was PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. The 45-year-old former governor of Mexico's most populous state, the one with the matinee idol good looks and the movie star wife, got about 38% of the vote. PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came in second with about 32%. The PAN's Josefina Vazquez Mota got just 25%.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

This is despite the fact that Peña Nieto's public image took a lot of hits during the campaign. In December, the candidate struggled at a literary fair to name three books that had influenced him. When he was criticized for the flub by the country's intelligentsia, his daughter poured gasoline on the fire by insisting, on Twitter, that the story was driven by class envy. Later, in an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Peña Nieto admitted that he didn't know the price of a package of tortillas. When criticized for being out of touch, he insisted chauvinistically that he wasn't "the woman of the household." He also admitted in another interview that he was unfaithful to his late wife and fathered two children with two women during his marriage.

These tidbits normally tantalize the media. But Mexico's version of Big Media, led by the gargantuan multimedia company Grupo Televisa, has been a big fan of Peña Nieto. Their cozy relationship was one of the things that, in recent weeks, drove hundreds of thousands of student protesters into the streets to protest the candidate's likely election and the fact that the elites who run Mexico seemed to be ramrodding Peña Nieto into office. The 132 Movement is Mexico's liberal version of the tea party, challenging the establishment and determined to be heard.

Officials: Peña Nieto projected winner
Peña Nieto commits to rebuild Mexico
A strategy to fight against drug cartels

Even former President Vicente Fox crossed party lines and endorsed Peña Nieto, against the PAN's own candidate, Vazquez Mota. That maneuver only solidified the cynical view of many Mexicans that the fix was in, and that the two major parties are more alike than different.

Still, many voters fell in line. Now, after 12 years of being on the outside, the PRI-istas are back in power.

Not that they were ever far from it. At various times in the last decade, even when it didn't hold the presidency, the PRI kept control of the Mexican Congress. The party also used this control to thwart reforms pushed by Fox and his successor, Felipe Calderon. As many Mexicans see it, the PRI was always plotting its retaking of the presidency, even as it overhauled its brand and tried to overcome a legacy of corruption.

Has that legacy been overcome? It's hard to say. Some Mexicans seem willing to believe that this is not their father's PRI and that the party of today bears no resemblance to the one that was run from office a dozen years ago.

But the more common view seems to be that, despite the makeover, the party is as corrupt as ever -- a fact that voters seem willing to overlook if it can steer the country to safer and more tranquil waters.

Judging from what they're telling reporters, Mexicans are looking for a leader to grow the economy, turn Mexico into a first-world country, and, most of all, stop a war with the drug cartels that has in the last 5½ years resulted in the deaths of more than 50,000 Mexicans.

That is the PRI's promise. The party racked up major victories in the 2009 midterm elections by insisting that it could provide prosperity and security. That's code for: "Elect us, and we'll stop the drug war."

But can it deliver? I doubt it. What started nearly six years ago as an offensive by the government against the drug cartels has now morphed into a messy turf war between rival gangs eager to gobble up the country one city at a time. My sense is that the PRI couldn't stop the war, even if it wanted to.

Besides, if you listen to what Peña Nieto has been saying in the last several weeks about combating drug violence, it sounds like what the Mexican people typically hear from Calderon. Consequently, most experts don't expect a dramatic shift in the drug war or how the government goes about fighting it.

Shortly after winning, Peña Nieto told the Financial Times that while he is committed to reducing the violence, "There will be no pact or truce with organized crime."

For those of us who believe that this is a righteous cause and a battle worth fighting, one that affects countless lives on both sides of the border, that's good news.

Meanwhile, we'll have to wait and see whether the election of Peña Nieto turns out to be good news for Mexico.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT