More moves are still to come, aimed at breaking up telephone and broadcast monopolies and overhauling the criminal justice system, election rules and other targets, all stacked on the president’s lengthy, urgent to-do list.
After 10 months in office, Peña Nieto’s approval rating — 56 percent in the latest national poll — is lower than those of his two most recent predecessors at the same stage. But his administration says it is pressing ahead, backed by a rare and fragile consensus among the country’s major political parties to take on long-festering problems as quickly as possible.
“This is a transcendental moment,” Aurelio Nuño, the president’s chief of staff, said in an interview at Los Pinos, Mexico’s equivalent of the White House, calling his administration’s agenda one of “radical reform.”
“Over the past 30 years, Mexico has undergone a democratic transformation,” Nuño said, referring to the seven decades of one-party rule by his own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ended in 2000 and was followed by 12 years of heavy political gridlock. “But that transformation lacked the structural changes to make the state efficient, to increase growth and competitiveness and to reduce poverty.”
Such changes, he said, will inevitably clash with the “interests” of Mexico’s status quo.
A crucial test for Peña Nieto might come as soon as mid-October, with lawmakers expected to vote in the coming weeks on his bid to rewrite energy laws and jolt the sagging national oil company, Pemex, which has long been closed to private investment.
If approved, the changes could trigger a flood of foreign capital, especially from the United States, where energy companies are eager to partner with Pemex to unearth the large reserves of oil and gas that Mexico lacks the technology and expertise to reach.
Mexico’s economy has softened since Peña Nieto took office in December, further raising the stakes for the energy overhaul his administration says is the key to achieving its goal of 5 percent annual growth. The country’s financial woes deepened this month as drenching tropical storms inflicted billions in damages across a wide swath of Mexican territory and were blamed for at least 139 deaths.
Mexico’s left has been galvanized by the energy debate, casting the president’s proposals as a resource grab by foreign interests and local elites seeking to “privatize” the country’s national patrimony. Nationalism has infused Mexican oil since President Lázaro Cárdenas seized the country’s wells from mostly U.S. and British firms on March 18, 1938, an event celebrated here as Oil Expropriation Day.