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Opinion A parting president’s last insult to Mexicans: A medal for Jared Kushner

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto arrives to deliver his State of the Nation address at the National Palace in Mexico City in September. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Esteban Illades is a Mexican writer. His most recent book is “Fake News: La nueva realidad.”

When Enrique Peña Nieto became president of Mexico six years ago, expectations ran high. Sure, Mexico’s ruling party for more than 70 straight years, the PRI, was coming back to power. But it was doing so under a different guise. No more corruption, Peña Nieto promised. His structural reforms would finally make the country a global powerhouse. New times beckoned.

But two years into his six-year term, his presidency unraveled. First it was the disappearance of 43 students from a rural teacher-training college in the state of Guerrero, carried out by organized crime and the local government, with strong suspicions of state and federal involvement. Then came the corruption. An investigative journalist, who was later fired from her morning radio show, published a story about how the president’s lavish private residence was sold to him and his wife by a government contractor at a lower-than-market price.

From then on, his government tumbled into a free fall: Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the country’s most notorious drug lord, escaped from Mexico’s most secure prison by building a tunnel complete with energy-efficient light bulbs. An investigation into the president’s misdeeds when buying the house — called the Casa Blanca, or “White House,” in Spanish — was quashed when Peña Nieto named a close friend to oversee it.

His approval ratings plummeted. He complained loudly to reporters because they didn’t clap when he spoke. He lashed out at social media because its users only saw the negative side of things. Suddenly, Peña Nieto was the most hated man in the country.

That is, until Donald Trump set foot in Los Pinos, the president’s official residency, on Aug. 31, 2016. Trump, who was then trailing by a large margin in the polls, was welcomed with open arms by the Mexican president in a move that badly misfired. According to senior officials, Peña Nieto and his finance secretary, Luis Videgaray — later appointed foreign minister — had invited both Hillary Clinton and Trump to Mexico as a show of goodwill. Clinton, however, said no, while Trump pounced on the opportunity.

The result was a catastrophe. Trump was allowed to talk, inside the presidential residency, no less, about building a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border. He received a boost in U.S. polls because suddenly he was seen as presidential material.

In Mexico, on the other hand, everyone was livid. A man who began his campaign by claiming that most of the Mexicans who emigrated to the United States were “rapists” was now being treated with a level of respect he did not deserve. The cherry on top of the cake arrived later that night, when he led a rally in Arizona among chants of “Build that wall!” and reiterated his promise that Mexico will pay for it.

From that point, Peña Nieto disappeared from the map. He did very little campaigning and has done few media appearances. Elections, which were to take place two years later, were the only thing people could talk about. Even negotiations regarding a new North American trade agreement were sidelined. Mexicans wanted a new president, and they wanted him now. Peña Nieto’s disastrous presidency was a thing of the past.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftist candidate who had twice lost the presidential race, won handily in July, with 53 percent of the vote. His party, Morena, gained a majority in both chambers of Congress. Peña Nieto’s party was virtually wiped out, and he slipped further away from public life. López Obrador takes power this Saturday.

But Peña Nieto apparently had one final blunder to pull off: On Tuesday, he announced that he plans to give Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the link between both governments, the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest medal the government can bestow upon a foreign national. The medal is given, according to Mexican law, to people who perform “prominent services” for the country. Those services, according to a press release, were rendered in getting NAFTA’s unnecessary replacement signed. As of today, Mexicans have yet to learn the benefits — if any — of this new agreement.

An unnamed former senior official once gave a quote to a foreign media outlet when the Casa Blanca scandal was at its peak: “They don’t get that they don’t get it.”

With this latest insult, which will close out his presidency, it seems that Peña Nieto didn’t get it and never will.

Read more:

Arturo Rocha: Mexico is not Uruguay or Canada. Before pot legalization, we must consider our violent reality.

Enrique Acevedo: Expect more migrant caravans while Trump insists on the same failed policies

León Krauze: The magical thinking of Mexico’s next president

The Post’s View: Mexico’s could-be president is a lot like Trump. That doesn’t mean they’d get along.

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