Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How U.S.-Mexican relations may change under new Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto

On Saturday, Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as Mexico's new president amid massive public protests against a return of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and allegations electoral fraudulence. His election marks the party’s restitution to power after a 12-year hiatus following the PRI's 71-year stronghold over the Mexican political system.

Below is a compilation of articles and analysis from think-tanks and news outlets examining what comes next in U.S.- Mexico relations. The majority of mainstream media outlets and many analysts focus on the potential for Mexico and the United States to increase trade and deepen the economic relationship between the two countries, while touching on the importance of reforming U.S. immigration laws.

  • In interview on PBS News Hour -- "How U.S.-Mexico Relations May Shift Under President-Elect Enrique Pena Nieto" -- Shannon O'Neil of Council on Foreign Relations and Michael Shifter of Inter-American Dialogue cite economic relations, energy cooperation and security, particularly drug trafficking and violence as pressing agenda items for President Obama's second term and Mexico's new president.

  • In "Viewpoints: What Should the Top Priority Be for U.S.-Mexican Relations?" the Americas Society/Council of the Americas compiles what nine prominent Mexican and U.S. experts believe the top goals should be for U.S.-Mexican relations. Economic relations, security, and immigration top the list.

  • "The United States and Mexico: The Path Forward" by Michael Werz of the Center for American Progress and Eric Farnsworth of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas look at the background of Peña Nieto's election and looks at U.S.-Mexico relations going forward. The authors determine that a large part of Peña Nieto's success will rely on what happens north of the border-- particularly with regards to economic policy and immigration reform.

  • Americas Quarterly blog provides a good overview of the inauguration and Peña Nieto's policy-oriented speech. AQ notes that Peña Nieto's campaign promises are ambitious, with conservative estimates claiming they would require an additional $800 billion per year to enact. The article deems the new Minister of the Interior, Miguela Osorio Chong, as the most important new appointment as he will now be charged with coordinating the 36,000 strong Federal Police and military forces.

  • "A Few Reflections on the New Mexican Cabinet" by Andrew Selee, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, examines President Peña Nieto's choices for his next administration. He concludes that overall the team only has a few surprises and consists of three general groups: old PRI political heavyweights, newer faces of the party, and a few respected figures drawn from outside traditional PRI political circles. Selee says the security cabinet is surprisingly competent and seems to "signal an attempt to give greater weight to intelligence-based operations, promote more citizen engagement, and strengthen the prosecutor’s office."

  • The Economist's Americas Blog also looks at select members of Peña Nieto's new administration, as does Mexico's El Universal newspaper, which provides the entire roster list including profile's with their political history.

  • In an Op-ed for CNN, "Getting ready for a new era in U.S.-Mexico ties," Andrew Selee and Christopher Wilson, also of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, say that it is time for a shift in bilateral relations. Selee and Wilson lay out the three main reasons why trade and jobs should once again top the U.S. agenda with Mexico. The pair also put out a policy brief for a "New Agenda with Mexico" last month.

  • The discussion on the security outlook in the country given the change-over in power is more scant. In the meeting with Peña Nieto on November 27, Obama signaled that he would like to shift the relationship away from being primarily security focused. Peña Nieto has echoed this, saying he wants to emphasize issues such as investment, trade, and energy, however as the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Latin American Working Group (LAWG) mention in a joint statement, a dramatic shift seems unlikely.

    Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy's America's Program outlines promises made by Peña Nieto and examines the "five strategic points" he mentioned in his inauguration speech-- to put Mexico at peace, putting citizens at the center of security policy, to create an inclusive Mexico, closing the gap of inequality, to provide quality education for all, to promote economic growth, and to make Mexico a responsible global actor.

    Carlsen characterizes these goals as "mostly cosmetic and devoted to appearances on the surface." She goes on to offer analysis of Peña Nieto's policies to carry out these goals, particularly with regards to security. Peña Nieto had said that there would be a "change in paradigm" in security efforts, focused more on reducing violence instead of targeting drug traffickers.

    The new head of state has proposed to create a 40,000-member “gendarmerie,” or a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations, but has not laid out a specific security plan. In November he announced he planned to dismantle the Secretariat of Public Security and put Mexico's security forces once again under the control of the Interior Ministry. He also said he would replace the Secretariat of Public Function with a National Anti-Corruption Commission with the power to investigate, charge criminals, assign cases to judges, and expedite lingering cases.

    On Tuesday, Peña Nieto said he would continue with Calderón's course of using the army and navy to fight drug cartels until a new security strategy was determined.

    As Carlsen and others have pointed out, Peña Nieto's security plan will continue to pursue militarized counternarcotics efforts and will maintain the current state of security cooperation with the U.S. government.

    As several analysts have noted, Peña Nieto has inherited a trend of reduced violence in Mexico, but as LAWG and WOLA set out in their call for Mexico to reform its justice system, security is very much front and center in U.S.-Mexican relations, noting that "Since 2008, the United States has allocated almost US$2 billion in security assistance for Mexico through the Merida Initiative, including around $800 million still in the pipeline. This funding and ongoing security concerns...make it clear that addressing security challenges will continue to be top priorities in the bilateral agenda."