The arrival at Los Pinos presidential palace of Enrique Peña Nieto, who on Saturday was sworn in as Mexico's new leader, shouldn't only symbolize the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power but also the return of a country to the forefront of American and international policy. The past presidential administrations of Felipe Calderón and Vicente Fox, which insufficiently ran the country for 12 years under the National Action Party (PAN), had engrossed the country in excesses without obtaining any of the necessary reforms that are now urgent, and losing a lot of time while other economies, such as Brazil, have emerged in the region. Mexico can leave behind this period of dull and slow economic and social growth, and aspire to better things.
Peña Nieto's trips abroad, which took place in the days prior to Saturday's inauguration, have demonstrated what his priorities are, and they are appropriate. His travels to Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and, of course, the United States, have shown that his presidential policy won't naturally just be focused toward the North American continent, but will be Pan American — without leaving out Spain and the rest of Europe, despite the understandable obsession with China and the Pacific.
But before Mexico can look abroad, it must reinforce itself internally. Peña Nieto's platform is an ambitious one, and it could not be any less so with all the challenges that he is facing. Among them are the needed reforms to the energy sector that will enable private investment; changes to the job market and the income tax code; restructuring the public agencies to improve their performance and eradicate corruption; upscale education standards; and beefing up law enforcement and security. On this last issue, it seems reasonable that he should begin withdrawing the armed forces from the fight against drug trafficking — Calderón's biggest mistake — and create a paramilitary police force that will answer directly to the Secretary of Government.
Mexico's modernization will not be possible if Peña Nieto leaves out entire sectors of society. The new government should introduce an innovative plan aimed at reducing alarming social inequalities, and rescuing entire sectors and regions from poverty.
Peña Nieto, who clearly won the majority on July 1, must demonstrate that it is not the old PRI that is making a comeback (a party plagued by its traditional cronyism, and which governed Mexico for 70 years as a dictatorship, although it did open up during its last years in power). He must show he leads a party that wants change, even though it means stepping on a lot of feet, including those of its own members.
Peña Nieto already understands that he cannot pull off this ambitious plan with just his PRI party — not only because the PRI doesn't have a congressional majority but also because this far-reaching platform requires a consensus. The Pact for Mexico between the PRI, PAN and the PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) with the president's team, and the arrival in government of a wide range of officials from different fields, can usher in a new era that will allow Mexico to emerge from a stagnation that has endured for too long.