Mexico’s Peña Nieto pledges to roll on with energy and education reforms

President calls on Mexicans to “take advantage of window of opportunity”

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto thanks guests after presenting his first annual report to the nation on Monday.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto thanks guests after presenting his first annual report to the nation on Monday.OMAR TORRES (AFP)

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday reiterated his commitment to introduce sweeping reforms, including his controversial measure to open Mexico’s state-run oil industry to private investment and the restructuring of the country’s income tax brackets.

“Mexico’s transformation is possible and is now under way,” Peña Nieto said in a nationwide televised address to mark his first nine months in office.

The leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said he was optimistic about his country’s future despite ongoing demonstrations by teachers over his education reforms and threats by Mexico’s leftist parties to call a nationwide protest over his proposal to open the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) to foreign investment.

“In the coming months, it will be decided what our history will be for the coming decades,” he said, calling on Mexicans to take advantage of this opportunity to support the changes he proposes.

After just one day in office, Peña Nieto last December signed a far-reaching agreement called the Pact for Mexico with the nation’s two largest opposition parties—the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) – to introduce sweeping changes in important sectors.

“The window for opportunity is opened,” he said. “We trust in our potential and dare to take that leap forward.”

In his speech from Los Pinos presidential palace, Peña Nieto said the PRI didn’t come to office “to administer but to transform” Mexican society.

In addressing the security measures, the Mexican president said there was better coordination between law enforcement agencies and other police bodies. He said the country’s homicide rate had dropped 20 percent from December to July compared to the same period the year before.

Of the 122 most-wanted fugitives, 65 have been captured, Peña Nieto added.

The president also committed himself to tracking down the whereabouts of the 26,000 persons officially listed as missing by government authorities while at the same time pledging to demand that security forces respect human rights.

He also sent out a message to the scores of vigilante groups that have proliferated in certain parts of the country, but mostly in Michoacán state: “I will not tolerate anyone taking the law into their own hands.”

Still, the president made no mention of the rash of kidnappings that have increased over the last months – a major concern among Mexicans – or the pushback date of the creation of the 5,000-member Gendarmería security force. After stating that this new law enforcement body would be officially presented during the military parade of September 16 – Independence Day — the government last week said the Gendarmería would in fact not be operational until July 2014.

Public opinion over Peña Nieto’s policies has shifted to new lows in recent months following the announcement of his energy reform and changes to the education sector. The country’s poor-performing economy has also contributed to the lower ratings due to government spending cuts and the weak recovery in the United States. The government has cut its growth forecast to 1.8 percent of GDP from its previous estimate of 3.6 percent of GDP for this year.

Nevertheless, the president assured that new jobs would be created in the coming months, and defended his decision to open Pemex to private investment while at the same time insisting it would not be privatized.

Referring to his tax reform plan, Peña Nieto said new policies that he will announce in the coming weeks would strengthen Mexico’s financial capacity. He explained that the government would introduce a simplified income tax and change the manner in which 67 percent of Pemex’s revenues are turned over to the national treasury.

“It is time to grow and together we can make history,” he said.

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