President Obama’s election victory last month proposed many new policy changes for the next four years. One of the most important policy relationships may be the one between the United States and Mexico. This past Saturday, Enrique Pena Nieto was sworn in as Mexico’s new President. With policy challenges for Nieto tied greatly to Mexico’s relationship with the United States, it will be a difficult four years for President Obama and President Pena Nieto.
For President Obama, Democrats and Republicans, the issue of demography may be the missing key to pushing through comprehensive immigration reform. The immigration issue is one that is not only in the minds of Americans, but is an issue close to the hearts of many in Mexico. A large number of Mexicans have some ties to the United States with relatives living there permanently or working there to support their families back in Mexico. Often Mexico’s greatest export floats between oil and people, people who fund many households and communities in Mexico through remittances from their employment abroad, most often coming from the United States. Any conflict coming out of the immigration debate in the US will affect Mexicans greatly, even if US immigration is not one of the main policy initiatives of Pena Nieto’s new government. While Latino’s may decide many future elections in the US, their voting power and financial influence may also shape policy inside Mexico itself, out of the direct control of both respective governments.
Pena Nieto had made some statements on future policy development, but he was not known for going into any great detail on his policy initiatives during his campaign. Recently his detailed policy focus has been put out to the public, focusing on poverty reduction, energy, transparency and drug violence.
Mexico’s economy has been doing surprisingly well over the last few years, but Pena Nieto was able to use the lack of trickle down opportunities to gain a strong foothold in Mexico’s election. His policy seeks to have the benefits of Mexico’s economy go to communities that have not seen any direct benefits. It is unclear how wealth distribution could be conducted without causing some major rifts in Mexican society, but he may be able to keep this promise if Mexico’s economy stays healthy and the trickle down sinks into the rest of Mexican society with employment and investments for all Mexicans growing for everyone’s benefit. Often economic policies cannot be attributed to one governmental term, like in Brazil; economic successes spanned two or three different presidential terms, even if Lula was seen as the one who produced the eventual economic boom.
Transparency and narco violence will be a major challenge over the next few years for President Pena Nieto as well as President Obama. With the US wars in the Middle East coming to a close (for the moment), the focus on other parts of the world has become a priority for the Obama Administration. Mexico’s drug violence and government efforts to end control by the cartels is directly linked to demand for narcotics over the border into the US and cartels that run throughout North America. In reality, more violence has come about on the US-Mexico border than the last few years of US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. The next four years will determine the next twenty years of drug policy between the US and Mexico. Formerly, Nieto’s PRI party left the cartels alone and many officials would not challenge their control in the regions where the cartel’s operated. With the election of the PAN and former President Cardenas, the government went to war with the cartels, but also created a war against corruption in Mexico’s government and police as well. With no assured policy solution to drug violence in Mexico, it will be difficult for Pena Nieto to rally the country to fight a war so drugs do not enter the US, especially since it comes from a policy that was started by a different President and a different party. Even former PAN President Vicente Fox has made statements supporting the legalisation of narcotics in Mexico as a tool to depressurise the violence. In the end, the result of Mexico’s uncontrollable drug violence will be one that neither Pena Nieto nor Obama can predict, but should be ready for as any policy outcome may be possible over the next four to six years.