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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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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Mexico: How Much Has Changed

January 24, 2014

Mexico BricksThe Huffington Post, 01/23/2014

There are those would say that present-day Mexico is an example of the famous phrase of Giuseppe di Lampedusa (about Sicily of the Risorgimento) that everything has changed so that everything may go on just as it was. And others say that Mexico has not changed at all. I disagree with both views. I have been a witness — from various perspectives — to my country’s political life for almost fifty years and I am quite sure of one thing: Mexico has really changed.

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A young Mexican governor takes heat over nationwide publicity campaign

January 23, 2014

chiapasThe Christian Science Monitor, 01/20/2014

It’s become known as the Peña Nieto model of political ascent, after the current Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto: Drape a comely television star on the arm of a telegenic governor. Get attention from a major television network. Then turn on a spigot of cash for publicity.

Many say the tactic helped President Peña Nieto, who is married to a former television actress, triumph in 2012. Now, other governors are trying to do the same – with mixed results.

Gov. Manuel Velasco Coello of Chiapas state is one of them. Like Peña Nieto, his smile lights up his surroundings.

For the past year, Mr. Velasco, Mexico’s youngest governor at 33, has been a staple in society magazines, partly because of his romance with Anahi Giovanna Puente Portilla, a soap opera star and singer who is universally known by just one name: Anahi (pronounced ah-nah-EE). Her tweets from her @anahi account constantly proclaim her love for the governor.

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Mexico’s Peña Nieto denies growth of vigilante movement

January 23, 2014

Enrique PeñaNieto 2The Los Angeles Times, 01/22/2014

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Wednesday that the vigilante “self-defense” groups of Michoacan had “in no way” been allowed to expand on his watch, even though the groups began to emerge three months after his inauguration and have indeed grown in scope and power since.

Michoacan’s armed vigilantes went on the offensive this month, seizing control of a number of towns and communities and declaring their intention to directly confront their enemy, the Knights Templar drug cartel, given the government’s inability to root it out of the southwestern state. Peña Nieto’s government was forced to send in a surge of troops and federal police last week to avert a bloodbath.

Peña Nieto’s comments came during a layover in Gander, Canada, as he was making his way to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an event, he said, that would be a “great opportunity to promote Mexico.”

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Has Mexico’s moment finally arrived?

January 9, 2014

Enrique PeñaNieto 2The Guardian, 01/09/2014

Mexico begins the new year bathed in predictions that its “moment” has finally arrived thanks, primarily, to a frenzy of reforms since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012.

But beneath the glow, question marks hang over the country because of its longstanding security crisis, rampant poverty, inequality – and even the reforms themselves.

“If things go well, Peña Nieto could go down in history as one of the great reformers of the past 100 years,” says political analyst Raymundo Riva Palacio. “If it does not, the failure will be monumental.”

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