Mexico Faces Growing Gap Between Political Class and Calls for Change

December 16, 2014

12/12/2014 The New York Times

Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

As the Nobel Peace Prize was being awarded in Oslo this week, a young man dashed on stage, unfurled a Mexican flag streaked with red paint and begged for help for his country because more than 40 college students have been missing for months after clashing with the police.

At the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony in Las Vegas last month, the big winners, Calle 13, shouted solidarity with the victims as they performed. At home, mass marches have regularly filled Mexican streets with angry calls for the government to act against corruption and crime.

But is the country’s political class listening?

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Mexico’s Season of Scandal and Violence

December 12, 2014

12/11/2014 Bloomberg Businessweek

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP - Getty Images

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP – Getty Images

Mexico has been engulfed in protests since the disappearance and alleged murder of 43 college students by a drug gang. While he contends with the unrest, President Enrique Peña Nieto also faces a big challenge to his economic agenda because of a scandal involving his wife, former soap opera star Angélica Rivera, and Grupo Higa, a government contractor.

On Nov. 3, the Peña Nieto administration awarded a $4.3 billion contract to build a high-speed railway to a group led by China Railway Construction (601186:CH). Three days later the government canceled the deal, citing general “doubts and concerns.” On Nov. 9, reporters led by prominent journalist Carmen Aristegui revealed that Rivera had agreed in 2012 to purchase an opulent property—called the White House because of its color—from a unit of Higa, a partner in the winning China-led bid. Aristegui’s team further revealed that the Higa unit still held the deed to the house. In response, the first lady said on YouTube that she’d paid 14.3 million pesos ($995,000) of the 54 million-peso purchase price. So the first lady’s mansion is owned by a construction company that has bid successfully for government contracts.

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New Ties Emerge Between Mexico Government and Builder

December 12, 2014

12/11/2014 The Wall Street Journal

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto and first lady Angelica Rivera salute during the military parade celebrating Independence Day at the Zocalo square in downtown Mexico CityMexico’s finance minister bought a home from a prominent government contractor who is at the center of influence-peddling allegations roiling President Enrique Peña Nieto ’s administration, documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal show.

Property records show that the minister, Luis Videgaray, widely seen as the driving force behind Mexico’s recent economic overhauls, bought the house in an exclusive golf resort outside the picturesque town of Malinalco, in the central State of Mexico, from Bienes Raíces H&G SA.

The firm, commercial records show, is owned by Juan Armando Hinojosa, whose companies have won hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of public-works projects during Mr. Peña Nieto’s time as governor of the State of Mexico and during his current administration.

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How Serious Are Current Protests and Political Risks in Mexico?

December 11, 2014

12/10/2014 Forbes.com

MIGUEL TOVAR / LATINCONTENT / GETTY

MIGUEL TOVAR / LATINCONTENT / GETTY

Mexico is facing down the most serious political crisis yet seen during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. On December 1 I attended a march in Mexico City in which protesters demanded information about the whereabouts of 43 student teachers who disappeared from the state of Guerrero in late September. In a recent article for Fox News Latino I explained, “Although the protest featured groups of students, well-dressed men and women and young people carrying signs, when protesters approached the wide palm-tree lined boulevard called Reforma (“Reform”) near the landmark Angel of Independence statue, a few young men wearing masks smashed the windows of several banks and spray painted a paradoxical mix of messages: ‘No More Death,’ ‘Socialism or Death,’ and ‘Death to the Police.’ As most of the protesters walked away, a small group of masked individuals charged down Reforma, lit torches and started smashing windows as patrons in business attire at upscale restaurants on the second and third floors watched.”

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What Mexico’s President Must Do

December 11, 2014

12/10/2014 The New York Times

Enrique Pena NietoThousands of young people have been marching in the streets of Mexico since the kidnapping and murder of 43 students (now confirmed by the DNA of a burned body) from a college in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero. According to Mexico’s attorney general, the crime was committed by professional killers working for a narco- gang and under the orders of the former mayor of the town of Iguala, who was a member of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Although most of these criminals, including the mayor and his wife, have been arrested, the student protesters are blaming the Peña Nieto government of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and questioning its legitimacy. They are even demanding that the legally elected president resign from office.

Although most Mexicans may not support so extreme a demand as resignation, the popularity level of the president has sunk quite low, and not only because of the slow response to this atrocious crime. The suspicion of a conflict of interest over his wife’s partial purchase of a luxury mansion has further clouded the situation for Mr. Peña Nieto. Distrustful of government and fed up with the violence and insecurity unleashed by the drug cartels, Mexicans feel a profound moral and political resentment at a situation that those of us who struggled for the coming of democracy at the turn of the millennium never expected to confront. While there have been incidents of violence among the protesters, most of the demonstrations have been peaceful but intensely angry. And their anger is justified.

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Protests hammer Mexican president’s popularity as elections loom

December 2, 2014

12/01/14 Reuters

Enrique Pena NietoThe popularity of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has sunk amid concerns about his handling of security problems and corruption, polls showed on Monday, in a sign that his ruling party could lose ground in elections next year. Polls noted the sharp drop in his approval rating since the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers students and a conflict of interest scandal involving a home being purchased by the first lady. The approval rating of Pena Nieto fell from 50 percent in August to 39 percent in November in a poll by daily Reforma, while paper El Universal showed 41 percent approved of his leadership in November compared to 46 percent in August.

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Mexican president promises answers on tainted luxury home

November 17, 2014

11/16/14 Reuters 

Ma Ning / New China News Agency

Ma Ning / New China News Agency

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said late on Saturday the government would next week give answers about a luxury house acquired by his wife that has raised questions about the ethical standards of his administration. Days after the government canceled a $3.75 billion rail contract won in an uncontested bid by a Chinese-led consortium, local media reports identified the property as linking one of the Mexican partners in the group to Pena Nieto. Reports about the house have swelled a recent tide of public anger about the government, which has been under heavy fire for its management of the disappearance of 43 students in the southwest of the country in late September. Opposition lawmakers claimed the rail deal had been fixed. It was won by a consortium including a company called Grupo Higa just before Pena Nieto went on a visit to China.

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