Peña Nieto, who won the election Sunday, will face immediate scrutiny as he begins to select his cabinet, especially his law enforcement and military ministers, who will inherit a brutal, complex war against wealthy paramilitary crime groups that have terrorized Mexico for six years and left 60,000 dead.
A top Peña Nieto campaign official, Emilio Lozoya, said in a statement Monday, “Some may wonder what a Peña Nieto presidency will mean. The answer is simple. It will mean a stabilization of the situation in Mexico and advancement on many of the issues Americans care about.”
Peña Nieto, who will assume office Dec. 1, orchestrated a remarkable political comeback of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ran Mexico for more than 70 years until its defeat in 2000. But he knows that many people remain skeptical that the PRI has truly transformed itself from its older autocratic and venal version.
His party has a reputation for cutting deals with drug cartels and allowing narcotics to move north, as long as crime mafias avoid public violence and attacks against civilians. Three of the last PRI governors in the bloody border state of Tamaulipas are under investigation on suspicion of aiding cartels.
“There is no going back to the past,” Peña Nieto assured his audience here and abroad in a victory speech Sunday night.
Relations with U.S.
The United States and Mexico have a lot more than cocaine kingpins on their agenda. As top trading partners, the economies of the two countries are deeply integrated. Mexico is a top producer of the automobiles, flat-screen TVs and winter vegetables consumed in the United States. More than $1 billion in goods cross the border daily. There are 33 million people of Mexican descent in the United States, including 6 million illegal immigrants.
Although he is the first Mexican president in 30 years who did not attend an elite U.S. university such as Harvard or Yale, Peña Nieto hasn’t waited for introductions.
After Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) questioned the PRI’s crime-fighting resolve at a recent House subcommittee hearing, Peña Nieto dispatched envoys to the congressman’s Capitol Hill office to insist that Sensenbrenner was mistaken, according to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), one of the few U.S. lawmakers who has a relationship with the Mexican president-elect.
“He was very concerned. He said to me, ‘Why are they saying this?’ ” said Cuellar, who traveled to Mexico to observe the vote Sunday and attend Peña Nieto’s victory party. The president-elect has reached out to Cuellar and other American lawmakers from districts along the U.S.-Mexico border.