December 6, 2013
Mexico leader celebrates education reform victoryTuesday, September 3, 2013
Peña Nieto defends energy reforms in state of union address
MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto gave his first state-of-the-nation address yesterday after nine months in office and promised to push ahead with his aggressive reform agenda, despite a wave of mass teacher protests who seek to block his plan for mandatory evaluations.
The Mexican leader hailed his “transformational” reforms in education, energy, finance and taxation in his speech, which came after a midnight vote by the Lower House of Congress which establishes a competitive examination system for hiring teachers and requires them to pass regular evaluations in order to remain in the classroom.
The education bill still has to be approved by the Senate, and protesting teachers who blocked Mexico City’s main freeway and access to its airport last week continue to occupy the capital’s main plaza.
Another major demonstration is scheduled for September 8 against the most controversial reform the president has proposed — opening up the oil and gas sector to private companies. Although Peña Nieto has promised that the state oil monopoly Pemex will remain in Mexican hands, many believe the proposed reforms are the first step of a path to privatization.
“Mexico has a great opportunity to make fundamental, structural changes to take advantage of its riches and potential,” he responded in the speech. “For that reason, the government has decided to take on multiple challenges at the same time.”
“Resistance is a natural consequence when you are pushing a transformation,” he said of the protesters, who also caused him to change the date and location of his address.
Touting accomplishments in other fields, Peña Nieto reported a significant drop in murders and drug-related killings since he took office, though many doubt those statistics. He said the government had captured 65 of the 122 most-wanted criminals in the last nine months, though that list has never been made public.
And he garnered applause with a stern message to the many vigilante groups that have taken up arms against drug cartels and legal authorities alike: “We will not tolerate anyone who tries to mete out justice through their own means.”
AN AGGRESSIVE AGENDA
Peña Nieto came to office with a lot of swagger and an aggressive agenda, with many saying his Institutional Revolutionary Party, for all its faults, knew how to govern. He promised to make Mexico an economic powerhouse, overcoming its image as a violence-torn land overrun by drug-traffickers.
He passed radical reforms for education and telecommunications, but the battle over just how the education law will be applied has threatened to undermine his plans to overhaul the tax system and energy sector.
Both are controversial. Allowing greater private involvement to revitalize the moribund state-owned oil company has run into opposition from nationalists. And many oppose a plan for adding sales taxes on food and medicine.
With economic growth projections cut nearly in half and streets clogged with anti-reform protesters, some questioned if Peña Nieto had taken on too much at once.
He put a positive spin on one of the biggest setbacks of his administration so far: a drop in projections for GDP growth this year to 1.8 percent from an earlier forecast of 3.1 percent.
Peña Nieto called the Mexican economy “stable, competitive and open to the rest of the world,” adding, “This should reflect itself in the pockets of all Mexicans.”
Herald with AP, Reuters