In DMN interview, Mexico’s president-elect says he will work with U.S. to secure border
July 10th 2012 · 25 Comments
Although he wants greater cooperation with the U.S. in Mexico, Peña Nieto stopped short of advocating for armed U.S. agents or troops on the ground there, saying that such talk among Mexicans is a reflection of growing exasperation with the current government’s inability to bring down the violence. More than 55,000 people have been killed during the six years of the administration of Felipe Calderón.
“Much of that comes from the frustration that exists within Mexican society,” Peña Nieto said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. “I think where there is frustration, it forces society to look at other alternatives. I, however, insist on the respect of sovereignty.”
In the 30-minute interview Friday at his Mexico City office, Peña Nieto also addressed issues of trade, illegal immigration, governing a divided nation, allegations of vote-buying by his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and lessons from the drug war in Colombia.
He also recalled his family’s vacation at Arlington’s Six Flags Over Texas, adding: “We loved Dallas. It’s a very modern, beautiful city.”
Fresh from his victory a week ago, the youthful 45-year-old former governor looked relaxed. He conducted the interview in Spanish, although he said he’s also comfortable with English, some of which he learned during a year of secondary school in 1979 at Denis Hall in Alfred, Maine. However, he said, out of protocol Spanish will be the language of choice during his administration.
He plans to make a trip to the U.S. before taking office and doesn’t rule out Dallas or Chicago as possible stops. He confessed to being worn out after an intense campaign but said the real work is just beginning as he faces daunting challenges and expectations and prepares to name an administration team with “the profile that Mexicans expect — people who are respected, honorable and have a proven ability in public service to merit the respect of Mexicans.”
“I’m grateful for this second opportunity that Mexicans have given our party,” he said. “We will respond to their trust by delivering results and doing what is best for Mexicans.”
Until it was kicked out of power in 2000, the PRI ruled Mexico with an autocratic hand for seven decades, amid allegations of corruption, vote-buying, co-option and accommodations with criminals, all under the guise of a democracy.
Last week, just hours after Peña Nieto was declared the apparent winner, videos showed people rushing to grocery stores to redeem prepaid gift cards they said the PRI had given them in exchange for their support during the election.
The opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution and its presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, have said they detected thousands of voting irregularities and called for a total recount. López Obrador also charged that Peña Nieto’s campaign received biased positive coverage from Mexico’s media duopoly, the Televisa and Azteca networks.
The National Action Party, or PAN, echoed some of those charges, saying it’s not a question of whether Peña Nieto won, but how he won, with party leaders accusing the PRI of surpassing campaign spending limits. The PAN said it is prepared to recognize Peña Nieto as president-elect of Mexico, but only after the Federal Electoral Institute ratifies the results, which is expected Sunday.
In the interview, Peña Nieto denied the allegations, calling them part of López Obrador’s “dishonest theater play” aimed at casting doubt on the results, which show Peña Nieto with a 6.6 percentage-point margin over López Obrador. Peña Nieto denied that any of his votes were “bought off” or that he surpassed campaign spending limits. He said he condemns such practices and has called on the attorney general’s office for an inquiry into allegations.
“Whoever supposes or tries to affirm that the vote of Mexicans is co-opted, or is conditioned, or bought off, I would ask any Mexican, ‘How much is your vote worth?’ I find the tactics distasteful … and an offense to the 49 million Mexicans who went to the polls and with complete freedom chose their next president,” he said.
“There is a clear change in this country, and those who refuse to understand that do not understand the democratic advances that we have made. My commitment is clear: With democracy we have to commit ourselves to more results. The biggest threat we face is not providing results to society.”
He said that his administration, which takes office Dec. 1, will be committed to restoring security, in part so that tens of thousands of people who have fled to the U.S. can return to their homeland and contribute to its future.
Asked for a time frame, Peña Nieto said, “It’s difficult to talk about a specific, precise time frame, but it’s also precise to say that Mexican society expects results on matters of security … and very soon.”
He added: “We must see a gradual reduction of crimes, but most of all, a reduction in the levels of violence, which is what hurts and worries Mexican families the most.”
He said he plans to talk with President Barack Obama on finding a way “to regularize the situation of more than 6 million Mexicans living in the United States” illegally.
“There must be a clear recognition on the part of the United States of the work that Mexicans and other immigrants from all over the world contribute to the economic well-being of the United States,” he said. “There has to be some clear mechanism that will permit their legal stay in the United States.”
His goal, however, is to help transform Mexico into a nation of opportunity, with less poverty, so that in the future “those who decide to migrate do so as a decision, or an option, but not as a necessity.”
Technology and border
He said that one of his administration’s biggest challenge will be “to build a more secure northern border, where the two governments, with respect to our mutual sovereignty, can permit the increased use of technology to ensure that the passage of people, goods and trade is processed in a more seamless and safe fashion.”
Trade between Texas and Mexico accounts for a large chunk of the overall $500 billion in annual U.S.-Mexico trade. More than 420,000 Texas jobs are generated from that trade, according to the office of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
“In the end, we are two countries bound by common geography, history, and I’d like to contribute so that our story becomes even closer, with more collaboration that will bear fruits to our two nations,” Peña Nieto said. “I want to especially greet Texans and tell them that.
“Mine will be a presidency for all Mexicans,” he added. “I also want to serve with the highest respect for Mexicans who live outside of Mexico. “
Last month, Peña Nieto announced that the former chief of the Colombian National Police, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, would become a top security adviser. In the interview, Peña Nieto called Naranjo “the world’s best cop” and praised Colombia’s success against drug traffickers. He insisted that he does not advocate the U.S. and Mexico pursuing joint armed counternarcotics operations like those carried out in carried out in Colombia.
Peña Nieto sought to assuage concerns that he and his party will somehow find an accommodation with drug traffickers, something Peña Nieto vehemently denied during the interview. “My pledge is to fight criminals with an effective and frontal assault,” he said. “There will be no deal or truce with organized crime.”
“The challenge is to adjust the strategy against organized crime, but that doesn’t mean a radical or brute change from the current strategy. There are, without a doubt, some accomplishments and some gains that this administration has made, like the growth of the national police force,” he said.
“But we also need to do other things like create special units with the help of the military, to operate in smaller communities where criminals hide, gangs find refuge. Too many times our institutions are either weak or nonexistent.”
A version of this column originally appeared in dallasnews.com.
A version of this column originally appeared in mexicoinstitute.wordpress.com.
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