'The last year has been a difficult one for Mexico.' Pena Nieto acknowledges country's troubles

In his state-of-the-nation address Wednesday, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto acknowledged the corruption, crime, and economic problems that have plagued the country. 

Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Members of the government listen to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto give his third State of the Nation address, seen on a large screen inside the National Palace in Mexico City, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. Mexico has been hit by rising violence, a falling currency and a slowing economy, and the president's decline in the polls.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto acknowledged Wednesday that the country's crime, corruption and economic troubles have caused distrust and anger among Mexicans.

While Pena Nieto stressed his administration's achievements in structural reforms and government programs, his state-of-the-nation address Wednesday contained a dose of realism.

Pena Nieto began the annual speech by mentioning the disappearance of 43 students in 2014, and the escape of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

"The last year has been a difficult one for Mexico," he said. "Our country has been deeply wounded by a series of regrettable cases."

"Complaints about conflicts of interest and corruption ... have created anger and indignation in Mexican society," he said. One of the highest profile cases involved First Lady Angelica Rivera's purchase of a mansion from a government contractor. She later returned the house.

He also noted that the economy was a major source of concern. Prices for Mexico's oil exports are at low levels, and the Mexican peso has fallen about 30 percent against the U.S. dollar over the last year. Two million more Mexicans entered poverty from 2012 to 2014.

"Today, Mexicans hear that oil prices are falling and the dollar is rising and, even those are linked to international issues, they cause fear about the economic effects," Pena Nieto said.

But Pena Nieto urged Mexicans to not allow pessimism to carry them toward those who promise easy solutions.

"Where there is intolerance, demagoguery or populism, nations far from reaching the change they aspire to, find division and setbacks," Pena Nieto said.

Pena Nieto pledged that in the last half of his six-year term the government would combat corruption and crime.

The written report that the president's office released Wednesday reflected uneven progress in the fight against drugs, crime and violence.

For example, as Mexico's opium and heroin exports rise, the country now focuses more effort on eradicating opium poppies than on wiping out marijuana crops. For example, in the first seven months of 2015, about 42,450 acres (17,180 hectares) of poppy fields were destroyed by authorities, almost seven times more than the amount of marijuana. In the past, marijuana had accounted for about 60 percent of drug crops destroyed in Mexico.

The unenviable circumstances are far different from what he faced during his last report on Sept. 2, 2014, just after he had won passage of a series of energy, education and telecom reforms, a success he said would put Mexico on the path to greater growth.

At the time, Pena Nieto was delivering on his main pledge, which was to reduce Mexico's drug-war-era violence. But progress there seems to have stalled. Homicides in the first seven months of 2015 were running about 3 percent above figures for the same period last year.

Pena Nieto's own approval ratings have fallen as well, from 55 percent in August 2014 to about 35 percent one year later, according to a Buendia&Laredo poll published Tuesday. It had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Jesus Silva Herzog-Marquez, professor of government at the Monterey Institute of Technology, said Pena Nieto's ability to regain popularity in what remains of his presidency will depend on whether reforms bear fruit and the economy rights itself.

"Frankly, I don't see, reading the people who know these things, that it is possible in the medium term," he said.

Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.