We must believe president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, who maintained throughout his campaign that his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which led Mexico until 2000, is no longer the old PRI, the party established in 1929 and formerly associated with non-democratic one-party rule, corruption and deals with drug cartels.
Mr. Pena Nieto takes over from a president whose war on the cartels has been blamed for a staggering number of drug-related deaths – more than 55,000. Violence levels have risen as a result of Felipe Calderon’s kingpin strategy, which targeted cartel leaders, prompting spectacular displays of vicious intimidation by those vying to replace them. However, drug-related homicides have decreased by 19 per cent so far this year.
This is encouraging progress and given our strong investment and manufacturing ties to Mexico, Canada should expect a strong stand against drugs, crime and corruption to continue under the new administration of its NAFTA partner. Furthermore, Canada should offer help and support, particularly in the areas of policing and judicial reform.
Internationally, Mexico is a fellow middle power. Like Canada, it is a new member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a G20 country, and former G20 host. It is an important hemispheric power unlikely to backtrack on the steps made toward democracy in recent years. Its growing middle class and youthful, increasingly educated, people are proud citizens of a democratic country that participates in many multilateral fora, and does so globally as well as regionally.
Mexicans today are far less tolerant of corruption than previously. The PRI has had to work hard to prove itself appropriately renewed to win the level of support that it gained during this campaign. Let’s not forget that it was under the PRI that a sufficiently open and democratic system was established to allow a rival, the National Action Party (PAN), to win the 2000 election. The PRI and its supporters must be well aware that the country has paid too high a price in lives lost to the drug war to slide back now to the bad old days of accommodation and deals with criminal organizations, which would be even more dangerous due to splintering and rivalry within the cartel factions. The Pew Global Attitudes Project survey released last month reveals that 80 per cent of Mexicans approve of Mr. Calderon’s use of the army in the drug war. Many of these same Mexicans have voted for Mr. Pena Nieto, believing he will stay the course in the war on drugs in their country.
More disconcerting are Mr. Pena Nieto’s rumoured ties to Televisa, the leading media outlet in Latin America. The history of the media’s relationship with politics in Mexico is complex, but at a basic level there have been allegations throughout this campaign that while Mr. Pena Nieto was accorded flattering coverage, other candidates were less kindly treated. A major demonstration against Televisa and in support of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) reminded Mexicans to be aware of the potential political power of media giants, a valuable lesson that the British – a long-established democracy in contrast – appear to be learning only today.
Mexicans have also elected 500 deputies, 128 senators, six state governors, and the head of government in the Federal District. Canadians are old hands with the mechanics and institutions of democratic governance. With our strong economic interests in Mexico, our common identities as resource-rich nations, North American countries, hemispheric neighbours, G20 countries, and new members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, let’s extend our hand in friendship and support to the new president-elect of Mexico, and let’s do so as quickly as possible.
Jennifer Jeffs is president of the Canadian International Council.