Anything for peace

2012-06-29 00:00

THERE’S no point in talking about who’s going to win the Mexican presidential election on Sunday. Enrique Peña Nieto is going to win it. What’s more interesting is why he’s going to win it.

 

Peña Nieto, the candidate of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is a charming and extremely good-looking non-entity. He speaks no foreign language, has travelled little abroad, and is so ignorant that, when asked on live television what three books had influenced him most, he struggled to name any books at all. Finally, he came up with two: the Bible, and a Jeffrey Archer pot-boiler.

He has spent his entire life in politics, and his timing was good. In 1990, he began working in various local branches of the PRI, the ruling single party that dominated every aspect of Mexican life, and if democracy had not come to Mexico it would probably have taken him a long time to rise to the top. However, 12 years ago, when he was only 34, the PRI lost power after 70 years in office.

The “dinosaurs” who ran the party machine realised that they needed a new approach in the newly democratic environment, and fresh young faces like Peña Nieto’s were just what they needed out front. In PRI’s long march back to acceptability, he was one of the standard-bearers, winning the governorship of the State of Mexico (the region surrounding the capital) in 2005.

The standard he bore did not have any stirring political slogan on it, however. Peña Nieto’s entire political pitch, then and subsequently, consisted of promising “projects” — a new road here, a hospital there — to every identifiable group in the electorate. That was all any PRI candidate could do, really, because the party had no serious ideological pretensions.

Sandwiched between explicitly ideological rivals to the right and left, the conservative National Action Party (Pan) and the socialist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), all the old-fashioned PRI had to offer was patronage and the pork barrel: poverty politics. That should have condemned it to a long exile from power, because Mexico has been doing very well economically under the Pan governments that have run the country since 2000.

Mexico is the rising star among Latin American economies, with an annual growth rate that now exceeds that of Brazil. And in an economy with low inflation and manageable debt, real incomes have risen as well.

Per capita income in Mexico is now as much as 50% higher than Brazil’s. So if Brazilian voters were so happy with the results of President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva’s eight years in power that they gratefully elected his chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, to the presidency in 2010, why have Pan’s 12 years of economic success not entitled it to re-election too?

The answer is simple: President Felipe Calderón’s declaration of war on Mexico’s drug cartels in 2006 has embroiled the country in a blood bath that blinds both foreigners and its own citizens to the remarkable progress that is being made on most other fronts. At least 50 000 killed in the drug war over the past five years have persuaded Mexican citizens that the country is in an acute crisis.

Back in the bad old days when the PRI ran everything, the cartels waged their internal wars discreetly, and they never attacked the forces of the state. There was an unwritten understanding that the government would not hinder their activities so long as they kept a low profile, except for an occasional big drug bust to keep the Americans happy.

In return, the cartels paid off PRI officials at every level and helped to perpetuate the party’s hold on power. It was a grubby arrangement, but not many people got killed and the public slept easily. Then came Pan, Calderón, and the war. A significant section of the public, rightly or wrongly, now believes that the PRI can make the deals that are needed to restore the peace.

Did Peña Nieto think this up by himself? Probably not. Are the “dinosaurs” who still control the PRI behind the scenes capable of coming up with it? Of course they are — they once did business with the ancestors of the current drug lords.

And would this be such a terrible thing for Mexico? Well, so long as the United States will not permit the legalisation and nationalisation of the drug trade, it’s probably Mexico’s best remaining alternative.

 

 

 Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.