Andrew Selee: A Few Reflections on the New Mexican Cabinet

Andrew Selee, 12/01/2012

Andrew Selee

Andrew Selee

The cabinet unveiled by Enrique Peña Nieto and his team on Friday contains mostly expected appointments but also a few surprises.  The cabinet can be seen as consisting of three general groups.  First, there is a group that is composed of younger PRI leaders with extensive technical expertise, led by Secretary of Finance Luis Videgaray…A second group is composed of the long-time PRI politicians, most of them former Governors, who have maintained the party during its years outside of national power…Finally, there is a third group that is made up of people who are primarily known for their technical expertise and come largely from outside party circles.

A Few Reflections on the New Mexican Cabinet

Andrew Selee

The cabinet unveiled by Enrique Peña Nieto and his team on Friday contains mostly expected appointments but also a few surprises.  The cabinet can be seen as consisting of three general groups.  First, there is a group that is composed of younger PRI leaders with extensive technical expertise, led by Secretary of Finance Luis Videgaray.  This group, many of whom were active as the public policy brain trust of the Pena Nieto campaign, includes Aurelio Nuño in the presidency, Emilio Lozoya at Pemex, and Ildefonso Guajardo in Economy, as well as Jose Antonio Meade, the big surprise, as Secretary of Foreign Relations.  Meade, who is believed to be personally close to Videgaray, has experience as Secretary of Finance in the Calderon administration, and Guajardo has served as a Congressman and long-time politician, but all in this group are recognized as technical experts.

A second group is composed of the long-time PRI politicians, most of them former Governors, who have maintained the party during its years outside of national power.  Led nominally by the Cabinet Chief and Secretary of Government Miguel Osorio Chong, these positions are primarily in areas that have enormous weight in the political and social fabric of the country.  Some of these senior PRI politicians, such as Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, and the new Secretary of Education, Emilio Chuayfett, have enormous political weight on their own, but others are better known among party insiders.

Finally, there is a third group that is made up of people who are primarily known for their technical expertise and come largely from outside party circles.  The biggest surprise here is undoubtedly Manuel Mondragon, the long-time Secretary of Public Security in Mexico City, who is close to the incoming and outgoing mayors of Mexico City.  Rosario Robles, the former PRD mayor of Mexico City and social activist, as the powerful Secretary of Social Development, is another interesting choice.  Though distant from her former party, she brings a different approach to social policy than many might have expected from a Pena Nieto government.  Julian Olivas in Funcion Publica, the government watchdog, which is likely to be subsumed in Treasury soon, and Mercedes Juan, the long-time head of FunSalud, a public/private venture to improve healthcare, are particularly interesting, and indicate a desire to put skilled individuals in sensitive positions rather than use these to reward political supporters.

What impact are these appointments likely to have on public policy?  First, it is clear that Pena Nieto is betting on major changes in the economic area and that foreign policy, under Meade, will be closely integrated with these efforts.  Foreign policy is likely to be more pragmatic and tied to an agenda for economic reform, which will be entrusted the more technically skilled economic cabinet.  Second, the security cabinet seems to be surprisingly competent.  Murillo Karam is a leading PRI legal mind and is well-known for his political skills, while Mondragon has been widely praised for his intelligence-based methods of public security in Mexico City and his willingness to dialogue with civil society organizations.  Admiral Vidal Soberon Sanz, the new Secretary of the Navy, has done well as the chief of staff to the outgoing Navy Secretary and indicates a significant degree of continuity there.  The security cabinet does not represent a dramatic break with President Calderon’s policies, but it does seem to signal an attempt to give greater weight to intelligence-based operations, promote more citizen engagement, and strengthen the prosecutor’s office.

In Education, the appointment of Chuayfett, an old rival of Teachers’ Union leader Elba Esther Gordillo, may signal the desire to mark limits to the union’s control over parts of the educational system, although it remains to be seen what direction this approach will take.  Mercedes Juan, in healthcare, is likely to signal a continuation of the policies to provide universal healthcare that were begun under Secretary Julio Frenk in 2000 and carried on throughout the Calderon administration.  Robles, in Social Development, will likely try to build a social development strategy that goes beyond the Oportunidades program, which provides economic transfers to families below the poverty line, perhaps an attempt to return to participatory development strategies more reminiscent of what she pursued in Mexico City and were in vogue under the federal Solidarity program in the 1990s.

Overall, the cabinet is a collection of old political heavyweights, newer faces of the party, and a few respected figures drawn from outside traditional PRI political circles.  Now that we know who the team is, it remains to be seen what they will be able to do.

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