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.
It is actually quite sad that people are still writing about travel safety in Mexico. When was the last time you planned a vacation to Ciudad Juarez or Nuevo Laredo? The answer is probably never. The more relevant question is, “Do you think it’s safe to go to Texas?”
Last night, roughly 200,000 people jammed the Zocalo, the central square of Mexico City, to attend a free show by Paul McCartney held on Mother’s Day. To see more pictures of the event, go here.
One thing that any visitor to Mexico City will notice right away is that the people here are crazy about the Beatles, or “Los Bitles” as they say. Beatles music is hawked on the metro through pirated CD’s, musicians play their songs on buses, in restaurants and on the subway. And no major neighborhood or market is complete without a small Beatles shop, selling t-shirts, clocks, bobble-heads, calendars, and all other sorts of Beatles related paraphernalia. El Chopo, the famous outdoor counter-culture music market, also has their obligatory Beatles puesto.
I spend a good deal of time scouring the city for used records, and there is almost always somebody fawning over a copy of Abbey Road, looking for the White Album or asking the vendor if they can get a pristine copy of their favorite “bitles” lp.
While the popularity of the Beatles the world over is not really news, the way that their music is a fundamental part of the culture of this city is absolutely fascinating to me.
“Vales de medicinas para todos”, or “drug vouchers for all” has been a staple of The Mexican Green Party’s (PVEM) platform for several years, and now that Peña Nieto and the PRI are running in alliance with the PVEM for the 2012 elections, Peña Nieto has recently come out officially in support of the proposal as part of his presidential campaign (here and here, in Spanish).
The proposal is fairly simple to understand. For all Mexicans who use some arm of the Mexican public health care system, the ISSSTE, IMSS, or Seguro Popular, if the public agencies are out of a prescribed medicine, an individual would get a voucher to obtain the same medicine from a private pharmacy. The proposal actually passed a few years ago in the Chamber of Deputies, but was blocked in the Senate. To me it is unclear how much of a problem it is that public pharmacies lack the necessary drugs, but on the face of it, the proposal sounds like a good one.
The proposal has been criticized by the left as a move towards privatization of public health care, but that criticism seems a little disingenuous considering that the entire system was built on a public-private partnership because the state just did not have the resources to create a completely public health care system autonomous of private doctors and hospitals (for more info on the development of the Mexican health care system, see Michelle Dion’s excellent Workers and Welfare.
What is really at issue here is that the PVEM is closely linked to the González Torres family, which controls Farmacias Similares, Farmacias del Ahorro, and Farmacias el Fenix, discount generic pharmaceutical chains that are all over Mexico, Central and South America. Jorge González Torres founded the PVEM in 1991 and was the party’s president until 2001, when the party leadership was taken over by his son, Jorge Emilio González Martinez (El Niño Verde). Jorge Emilio González led the PVEM until last year. The PVEM is largely a family business, and their drug vouchers proposal is classic rent-seeking behavior for personal, political and financial benefit.
Does it matter? Maybe not. The proposal itself may benefit a lot of Mexicans by ensuring they get access to the medicine they need, regardless of who provides it. However, it is always useful to know that seemingly progressive policies being supported by the Mexican political class are often for private financial gain.
The run-up to last night’s debate was overshadowed by two main issues: the controversy over which channels would air the debate, and that this is only one of two debates that will take place during the campaign.
Televisa and TV Azteca, the two major television channels, did not want to air the debate since they already had other programming scheduled. In the face of this refusal to air the debate, The IFE (Federal Electoral Institute) caved as they usually do and voted against forcing all the channels to air the debate. In the end, TV Azteca did not air the debate on their two channels, and Televisa only aired it on one of their 5 channels. The debate was also available on public television.
The IFE is responsible for organizing two debates during the campaign, in which the candidates are required to participate. However, other media outlets have attempted and failed to organize additional debates since the front-runner, Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI), has refused to participate in any other debates. EPN’s decision to avoid any unnecessary debating makes strategic sense, since he is already ahead in the polls by around 20 points, and gains little from additional public appearances. And, since he has already demonstrated that he can’t think on his feet, and will likely embarrass himself if he deviates from the campaign script, his campaign managers are doing everything they can to keep him away from the media.
The debate itself was not really what most people would consider a “debate.” The IFE publicly released the questions on Saturday ensuring the candidates wouldn’t be stumped by any question read by the moderator. The format largely precluded any real debate between candidates, although there were a number of attempts by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) and Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) to criticize Peña Nieto. For each question, one candidate was given 2 minutes to answer, then the other three candidates were given 90 seconds to give their answers to the question, followed by a reply from the original candidate. The candidate who was allowed to answer first rotated throughout the evening. This format provided for a fairly unintelligible “debate” as JVM and AMLO used much of their time to attack EPN and either ignore the question or provide a short ambiguous response, while EPN responded to attacks against himself and launched his own attacks against AMLO and JVM, while providing little in the way of concrete responses to the questions. Instead, the debate functioned more like a series of unconnected short speeches from each candidate, with responses to attacks coming several minutes after the criticism was launched and other candidates speaking in-between. The three major candidates largely ignored Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (Nueva Alianza) throughout the debate, while Qaudri tried to project himself as the “citizen” candidate, different from the other three politicos.
So how did the candidates perform? Overall, the mediocrity of all four candidates, their lack of innovative ideas and lack of charisma was the big takeaway from the debate. All candidates used props of pictures, newspaper articles, and graphs that were impossible to see on television, did not keep their comments within the established time limits and were thus cut off mid-sentence many times, and largely failed to answer the moderator’s questions. In terms of ideas, viewers heard a lot about increasing economic competition, ending corruption, and reducing poverty in very generic terms. Since I can’t imagine any politician being against competition, or pro-corruption and pro-poverty, all the blustering from the candidates on these issues communicated no information to viewers and voters, and was largely a waste of time.
Regarding security, all four candidates support the creation of a national police force. Since Calderón also has advocated this for several years, it wasn’t clear from the debate how any of these candidates differed on security policy from the sitting president, and why a national police force hasn’t already been created if no one disagrees with it. For the paltry two questions on security and justice, López Obrador largely ignored the questions. Quadri and Peña Nieto both advocated for more private investment in the prison system. How this will solve some of the major security issues in Mexico today is anyone’s guess. In general, on one the major issues facing Mexico today, it was largely impossible to distinguish differences among the four candidates.
Peña Nieto probably had the most to lose in this debate since he is a poor speaker, his campaign is largely devoid of ideas, and faced the brunt of the attacks during the debate. While he came off as a little unsure, and spoke in vague generalities, he seemed to perform well enough (and better than expected) to avoid damaging his commanding lead in the polls. The one highlight from the debate was his proposal for universal social security for all Mexicans. It would have been nice if he had elaborated how this would actually work or be implemented.
López Obrador was the biggest disappointment during the debate. His 2012 campaign has been much more positive and less combative than his 2006 campaign, so I was expecting a more positive AMLO during the debate with some more focus on ideas and policies. However, most of his comments were restricted to the supposed mafia that controls Mexico (although he didn’t actually use the word “mafia,” the discourse was the same), and the elusive “they” that prevented him from winning in 2006 and is now backing Peña Nieto. Ignoring the questions and talking in vague generalities about the powers-that-be that supposedly control everything in Mexico made him come off like some crackpot conspiracy theorist. Even on a question regarding how he would combat poverty, an issue on which the left and AMLO should have fairly strong and coherent positions, López Obrador ignored the question.
Vázquez Mota came off as monotone, robotic, and way too scripted, and spent much of her time attacking Peña Nieto. Despite her seemingly impressive record on paper as PAN party leader in the Chamber of Deputies, former Minister of Social Development and former Minister of Education, she had little to say about her accomplishments. On a question about education, she didn’t even mention education in her response, although did attempt to correct her mistake several minutes later after the topic had turned to the environment and sustainable development.
Gabriel Quadri was the biggest surprise of the debate. He was well prepared, answered the questions, and was the most focused on policy throughout the debate. His proposal for a neoliberal “revolution” in Mexico is unlikely to inspire much in the way of support, nevermind the fact that his party, Nueva Alianza, has no chance of winning, but I at least admire his ability to stick to the issues. The fact that he looks like he is wearing these all the time probably doesn’t help.
Probably the only memorable instance during the debate that viewers will remember was the use of a Playboy model to hand out cards to each candidate at the beginning of the debate to determine the order of response. Way to go IFE, very classy.