Embattled Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto gave his Third “Informe”, or state-of-the-nation address, Wednesday amid a crisis for the peso, ongoing drug violence, and a slew of corruption scandals involving him and his cabinet.
Peña Nieto, who enters the second half of his six-year term with a historically low approval rating of 35 percent, acknowledged the challenges facing the country as he spoke from the National Palace in Mexico City.
“The last year has been a difficult one for Mexico,” the president admitted. “But we are going to confront these challenges with clarity, direction and determination. We’re going to proceed with commitment to the rule of law.”
Peña Nieto defended his record, insisting that a recent package of reforms to the energy sector, education system, and other areas of the economy will eventually reap dividends. He also pointed to declining homicide rates and a string of high-profile arrests as evidence of a successful strategy against crime.
“We can say with pride that Mexico is moving forward,” he said.
Needing a dollar
Yet since Peña Nieto took office in 2012, the country has lurched from one crisis to another. The knock-on effect of high U.S. interest rates, low oil prices, and a slowdown of the Chinese economy has seen the value of the peso drop to record lows against the dollar.
Accusations of corruption, such as the notorious Casa Blanca scandal, have made a mockery of claims that the Peña Nieto administration would tackle graft head-on. Two weeks ago, the president was exonerated of any wrongdoing in the latter scandal by a political ally whom he himself appointed to investigate the case.
Meanwhile, several violent atrocities – notably, the horrific forced disappearance of 43 student activists one year ago – have shown that impunity continues with regards to the country’s armed violence, much of it related to the drug trade.
Peña Nieto’s party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), famously governed Mexico for seven decades uninterrupted ahead of electoral reforms in the 1990s. After twelve years of governance by the opposition National Action Party (PAN), the PRI won back voters by promising to restore economic growth and stamp out the country’s drug violence.
During the two-hour speech, social media was abuzz with criticism of a president who is widely seen as high on hype but short on substance. Newly-appointed PAN leader Ricardo Anaya described the speech as a “triumphalist monologue”.
The address came as a new congress was sworn in Tuesday following midterm elections in June. On August 27, Peña Nieto announced a significant cabinet reshuffle, although his key allies, Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, and Finance Minister Luis Videgaray, will likely see out the rest of the term.