The January 1 gasoline price hikes have crushed whatever residual popularity the government had. The latest Reforma poll showed Peña Nieto’s approval rating cut in half to a mere 12% in just one month and a corresponding increase in his disapproval rating.
Q: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Enrique Peña Nieto is doing his work as President?”
59% of those surveyed said the gasoline price hikes had affected them “a lot” and another 26% said “some.” Three out of five said they held the President responsible for the state of the economy.
The government staged an elaborate signing ceremony for a so-called “Agreement to Strengthen the Economy and Protect Family Finances” that includes a hodgepodge of measures or potential measures to contain price increases and stimulate demand. President Peña Nieto presided, and the pacto was signed by Meade, Guajardo, and Labor Secretary Alfonso Navarrete, for the government; the head of the peak union organization, the CTM; and the head of the peak business organization, the CCE. The EPN government has frequently resorted to these corporatist-style attempts to control events, that date to a Mexican political and economic system that has long-since disappeared.
Coparmex, the Mexican Business Owners Confederation, which is one of the main constituents of the CCE, refused to sign, saying it was given the final text only 2 hours before the event, and the pacto did not include concrete measures, clear goals, or ways to evaluate progress. As a mark of the last-minute nature of the event, the governors were not invited, although they were in Mexico City for a separate meeting of the Governor’s Confederation (Conago).
Protests continued around the country against the Jan. 1 gasoline price hikes last weekend. A peaceful protest in Monterrey at the Governor’s Palace was taken over by anarchists and became violent, with stained glass windows smashed and fires set. Police reportedly stood by and did nothing. President Peña Nieto’s brief New Year’s televised message on the 5th was milquetoast. The gasoline price hikes, he said,
Come from abroad. The government will not receive one cent more in taxes from the increase. To try to maintain an artificial price for gasoline would have required us to cut social programs, increase taxes or increase the country’s debt, putting at risk the stability of the entire economy.
After a long hiatus, I’ve decided to restart this blog on Mexican politics.
Why now? The current moment in Mexico is the most critical in decades:
- Weak, lame-duck President without a game plan for final two years of his term;
- Political fragmentation, with the next president likely to be elected with under 30% of the vote;
- Inability of the political system to address drug violence and public corruption;
- Country’s (and government’s) financial position still solid, but slipping;
- Chronic slow economic growth;
And, of course,
- Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on NAFTA, Mexican migrants in the U.S., and—indeed—the dignity of the Mexican people.
While I am an optimist at heart about Mexico, today for the first time in many years the risk exists that the country will take a sharp turn in the wrong direction, putting at risk decades of progress in economic modernization and integration into the world economy, tens of billions of dollars of investment, the advent of democratic governance, and close, constructive relations with the United States.
The government released for the first time comprehensive data (Mexico Segob homicide database) on killings related to organized crime. Ministry of Government spokesman Alejandro Poiré said the disclosure was “an exercise of transparency without precedent in Mexico, and with few precedents in the world.” The database includes killings month by month from December 2006 (when Felipe Calderón took office) through December 2010 for more than 1,100 municipalities across the country.
Some highlights from the government data:
- Overall killings spiked to more than 15,000 in 2010, an increase of 59% from 2009. The government’s figures are significantly higher than those compiled (and published weekly) by the major newspapers. Reforma for example, recorded 11,583
- On a quarterly basis, the peak was 2Q and 3Q 2010. The rate of killings was down 10% in 4Q10, though the government was unwilling to say this was the beginning of a trend.
- Since December 2006, 70% of the killings have been concentrated in just 85 municipalities, concentrated along the U.S. border and the Pacific coast.
Poiré’s presentation is here: SEGOB Presentation on Organized Crime Killings, Jan 11
On Saturday, President Felipe Calderón announced a cabinet reshuffle, with an eye to the 2012 election. Juan Molinar Horcasitas, one of Calderón’s closest political advisers, resigned as Secretary of Communications and Transportation in order “to participate intensively in political-party work that is important for the life of the country” according to the President’s statement. He is being replaced by Dionisio Pérez-Jácome, who has been Undersecretary of Finance for Expenditures and who also briefly served as presidential chief of staff.
Molinar’s record as head of SCT was not stellar. The ministry continued to be bedeviled by technical problems in executing the government’s ambitious transportation infrastructure program. And little headway was made in the area of telecommunications policy, where the award of a large bloc of wireless spectrum to a Nextel-Televisa consortium was drowned in a sea of lawsuits and the withdrawal of Televisa.
The President also named congressman Roberto Gil Zuarth as his new private secretary, replacing Luis Felipe Bravo Mena. Gil Zuarth had been widely seen as the President’s preferred candidate to take over the PAN in the party’s recent election of a new leader (an election won by Senator Gustavo Madero). Bravo Mena is returning to the private sector.
As noted by El Universal’s Bajo Reserva column: “Inside and outside his party, the PAN, the reading [of the changes] was the same: it is a signal that Calderón is not packing his bags and ready to give up power, perhaps to a political adversary. [The appointments] announced yesterday were a demonstration that he will give battle to everyone, including those within his own party.”
Georgina Kessel moves from Secretary of Energy to the President of Banobras, the development bank. She replaces Alonso García Tamés, who returns to the private sector.
José Antonio Meade, Undersecretary of Finance, becomes the new Secretary of Energy. Meade becomes the last of the senior level technocratic ‘old guard’ of the Ministry of Finance to leave, a process that started with the appointment of Ernesto Cordero as Finance Secretary in December 2009.
On today’s legal deadline, the Chamber of Deputies appears set to approve the expenditure law for 2011. The Finance Commission unanimously approved the expenditure proposal at 2am. The President’s request for increases for the security agencies, including the funds to create the unified police forces, were approved. The principal cause of delay in approving the expenditure package had been negotiations to allocate funds for highway construction between the different states. (Excelsior 11/15)