Enrique Peña Nieto’s Record as Governor of Mexico State

Via today’s Washington Post: “With the July 1 presidential vote only weeks away, Peña Nieto holds a solid double-digit lead in the polls. But Mexican voters and U.S. observers confess that they do not really know what the candidate stands for.”

As I mentioned in a previous post about the first presidential debate, Peña Nieto always speaks in extremely vague terms, and most of his campaign slogans are about “change” and “keeping promises.” The public rhetoric (and the above Washington Post story) tell us very little about who Peña Nieto is, what his record is, or what he plans to do if elected President of Mexico.

Mexiquenses, or people from Mexico State, often talk about what Peña Nieto did while governor, and occasionally the other presidential candidates will bring up Peña Nieto’s record, suggesting he did not actually complete several projects he said he had promised to complete. But besides some vague allusions to his record, I have yet to read a serious article that actually examines how he governed.

Unfortunately this post is not going to be the final word on the subject, but what I want to do here is briefly examine Peña Nieto’s record, as he himself presents it, as I believe it provides a fairly illuminating picture of Mexico’s potential future president. Currently on the campaign trail, the PRI candidate has been making a number of campaign pledges which are then signed by a notary public, as a signal about how serious he is in keeping his promises. Peña Nieto did the same thing as Governor of Mexico State, and has an entire website dedicated to the 608 campaign promises that he made and kept while governor.

In a future post, I’d like to examine his current proposals for the presidential campaign, but in this post I have examined and categorized all 608 completed campaign promises to see what it is that Peña Nieto did as governor. Each promise is listed on the website with a very short description, and photographic evidence of its completion. Unfortunately, there is not enough information to really examine the quality of each of these actions, but of the information available, they do provide a useful portrait of Peña Nieto’s priorities.

On the website, Peña Nieto’s promises are divided into 14 different categories, which I have preserved here in the table below (click on the image for a larger version).

Most of the 608 campaign promises deal with potable water/sewage projects and other public works projects, communications (road projects), education and health care.  One thing to keep in mind is that nearly all of the 608 promises related to projects in individual municipalities, and occasionally a small clustering of municipalities. This local targeting of each campaign promise means that each promise only benefited one or few municipalities (of the 125 in Mexico State), not the entire state itself.

To break down the promises further, I created a number of sub-categories that are more descriptive of the types of projects Peña Nieto engaged in while governor. (click image for a larger version)

What this second table demonstrates, is that most of Peña Nieto’s completed campaign promises involve targeted spending on a few key types of projects: potable water projects, sewage projects, road paving and construction, school construction and maintenance, and hospital construction and maintenance.

In general, most of the 608 promises involve construction. None of these projects are bad on the surface (without further details, it is hard to make strong conclusions about the desirability of each project), and in most cases probably improved the lives of individuals in the benefited municipalities. But, there is nothing here about the quality of the education received in the schools being updated or built, the quality of health care in the hospitals constructed, or any evidence of some overarching transportation plan that begins to address the very real problems of public transportation in the Metropolitan area surrounding Mexico City (If you look closely at the table, most of the supposedly kept promises regarding public transportation involve the completion of feasibility studies, not actual increases in public transportation).

What I take away from Peña Nieto’s own presentation of his record, is that he is very good at spending money. But in terms of leadership for Mexico, is it enough that the potential next president knows how to use public resources to finance construction projects? Considering the number of scandals over debt, corruption and public spending in other states and municipalities across Mexico, maybe Peña Nieto’s record is a substantial improvement. But to me, this also just reeks of clientelism. His six-year record tells me little about his vision for Mexico.

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