President Enrique Peña Nieto’s speech on Saturday during the celebration of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) 88th anniversary is still echoing.
The President defended his stance during his Administration, which began in 2012, this time claiming his popularity declined since he had to make and apply difficult decisions such as establishing what he calls “the structural reforms” on energy and education, and of course, since he decided to “liberate” the price of gasoline and diesel during the first week of January this year.
In yesterday’s article I said this was when his decline started, but a reality check has it that it was long before people began protesting against his energy and taxation policies.
Many Mexican observers believe that the January fuel price increases were not the starting point of his decline. According to past polls his popularity began a downward trend since 2014, the second year of his government, when he decided to apply a highly unpopular tax collection program then known as “the fiscal reform.”
The outcry from everyone was deafening. This was not just because the obvious reason that nobody likes paying taxes but because of disagreement with the application the collected funds were given at the time, mainly putting them in several subsidy programs in which funds were easily channeled into apparently corrupt uses such as diverting them into the pockets of many a PRI member.
Towards the end of 2014 came the first huge scandal, in which President Peña Nieto and his wife were accused of taking an elegant mansion located at Lomas de Chapultepec as a “gift” for the President awarding a contractor and a Chinese company the construction of the Mexico City-Querétaro bullet train. At the same time, his Finance and Treasury and Interior Secretaries Luis Videgaray and Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong were also accused by muckraking journalists of taking houses. The scandal known then as “the white house” was a major one, and left Peña Nieto badly shattered.
On Saturday’s speech the President defended his Administration — as he should — of being an honest one and claiming that much of it was news made up by opponents who wanted to denigrate the PRI.
By the time he ordered the increase of gasoline prices, both the President and the PRI were sagging behind in the polls. Yet when the nearly 20 percent price increase hit the pumps in January, the President got caught off guard by the virulent reaction from gas consumers who staged violent rioting in more than 25 cities all over the nation, and staged a mass protest nationwide. Peña Nieto wasn’t ready for this, and in fact, his popularity has not recovered ever since.
Another political event damaging the President’s image was the defeat of the PRI in several governor elections, which uncovered outright thievery — never mind corruption — in several states of the nation and affecting three governors.
Three black spots in his white shirt were the governors of Nuevo León, Rodrigo Medina, Veracruz Javier Duarte, and Quintana Roo, Roberto Borge. Medina is on trial; Borge has not been accused but just in case lives in Colorado; and Duarte is on the lam and just won the book of records top spot as the most corrupt politician in Mexican history and, mind you, that’s quite a feat. For the record, Peña Nieto promoted Duarte as “the new PRI” while he was candidate for governor in Veracruz back in 2011. This doesn’t help the President nowadays either.
Indeed nowadays you, dear reader, can go do your own poll and ask any Mexican on the street as to what affects the nation the most and surely you will get one word as an answer: corruption.
One can’t blame the President for defending his political alma mater PRI or even his fellow party members of being the pure souls they claim to be. He is a politician and most likely in his mandate the worst is yet to come in terms of bad performances at the polls.
He still has 16 months to go and unless he believes in miracles the remainder of his Administration will be an uphill crawl.