Pact for Progress

A Conversation With Enrique Peña Nieto

The President in Mexico City, September 2012. (Henry Romero / Courtesy Reuters)

When Enrique Peña Nieto, 47, became Mexico’s president, on December 1, 2012, expectations were hardly sky-high. A one-term state governor, Peña Nieto was relatively untested. His election also represented a return to power for Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had run the country for 70 years before being ousted in 2000 in the country’s first freely contested elections. Many feared that Peña Nieto’s ascendance would mean a resumption of the bad old days of crony capitalism, economic stagnation, and tacit cooperation with the country’s brutal drug cartels. Instead, the new president immediately set about enacting far-reaching economic reforms, taking on fiscal policy, unions, oligarchs, and a cosseted energy sector in rapid succession. He even got a fat tax on junk food passed last October. But as Peña Nieto’s first year in office has drawn to a close, results from the new approach have yet to materialize. Mexico’s economy has slumped, crime remains a serious threat, and polls show voter confidence in the president sagging. In mid-November, Peña Nieto met with Foreign Affairs managing editor Jonathan Tepperman at Los Pinos, Mexico’s presidential residence, to discuss his term to date and his plans for the future.

Your administration has gotten off to one of the best starts of any in recent history, but recently, the picture has started to look a lot gloomier. What concrete improvements can you point to from your first year in office?
This government has come not to manage but to transform. Part of what has allowed this is the Pact for Mexico [a deal to push through reform signed by all three of Mexico’s major parties at the start of Peña Nieto’s term]. The pact gave us space to debate and agree on the changes Mexico needs, and that is exactly what has been happening throughout this year. We’ve made adjustments in labor, in education, in finance, on fiscal issues, and I hope also in energy. All these adjustments have -- and this is natural -- faced resistance from the people who are being affected. But we’ve been building the foun­dations for a country that will be more promising in the near future.

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