On Sunday, Mexicans turned out in large numbers to vote for change — a change in priorities and approach, and a generational change focused on can-do governing. I am honored that, in me, Mexicans saw that opportunity for change and a new direction.
There may be considerable hand-wringing in the international community that my election somehow signifies a return to the old ways of my party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, or a diminished commitment in Mexico’s efforts against organized crime and drugs. Let’s put such worries to rest.
This campaign was about two things. First was the improvement of economic conditions for millions of struggling Mexicans whose daily lives have been touched by the anemic economic growth, which the Mexican National Institute of Statistics says averaged 1.7 percent between 2000 and 2010. Second was an end to the polarization that has paralyzed our politics, making impossible urgently needed reforms in the energy sector, labor markets, education and social security, to mention a few. We cannot postpone those changes any longer.
To those concerned about a return to old ways, fear not. At 45, I am part of a generation of PRI politicians committed to democracy. I reject the practices of the past, in the same way I seek to move forward from the political gridlock of the present. My generation’s objective is not ideology or patronage, but measurable success at liberating Mexicans from poverty. That is how I governed the State of Mexico, the country’s most populous, from 2005 to 2011.
I will govern with pragmatic realism and a clear, long-term strategy. Developing countries like India, China and Brazil have shown the way to significant and lasting poverty alleviation through institutional reforms and economic policies focused on growth. It’s time for these improvements to come to Mexico.
I want to address the issue of organized crime and drug trafficking head-on. There can be neither negotiation nor a truce with criminals. I respect President Felipe Calderón for his commitment to ending this scourge; I will continue the fight, but the strategy must change. With over 60,000 deaths in the past six years, considerable criticism from human-rights groups and debatable progress in stemming the flow of drugs, current policies must be re-examined.
Indeed, I’ve proposed initiatives that will result in a marked increase in security spending and have set as a public goal slashing violent crime significantly.
What must be improved is coordination among federal, state and municipal crime-fighting authorities. I will create a 40,000-person National Gendarmerie, a police force similar to those in countries like Colombia, Italy and France, to focus on the most violent rural areas. I will expand the federal police by at least 35,000 officers and bolster intelligence-gathering and analysis. I will consolidate the state and municipal police forces and provide greater federal oversight, to crack down on corruption within their ranks. I will propose comprehensive criminal law reform. I have already sought out the advice of Gen. Óscar Naranjo, who recently retired as Colombia’s national police chief and is one of the world’s top crime fighters.
But for these security measures to have a long-term impact, the international community must understand two things. First, these efforts must be married with strong economic and social reforms. You can’t have security without stability. Second, other nations, particularly the United States, must do more to curtail demand for drugs.
I hope our neighbors will join us not only in confronting crime and drugs, but also on many other issues of mutual concern. We should build on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, as an engine of growth by further integrating our economies through greater investments in manufacturing, finance, infrastructure and energy.
I similarly intend to start a new era of economic and political cooperation with the Asia-Pacific region, and strengthen our relationship with the European Union. And as the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country, Mexico has a large role to play — economically, culturally and politically — in Latin America and the Caribbean. Last but not least, I would welcome the implementation of comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. Experts agree that there are now more Mexicans coming back to Mexico than those leaving my country to find jobs in the United States. This new reality should make the immigration debate in the United States less divisive.
In 2000, the eyes of the world were on Mexico as the PRI, for the first time in seven decades, transferred power peacefully to a different party. Since then, Mexico has evolved considerably, becoming more modern and dynamic. However, this period has also included plenty of missed opportunities, with important political and economic reforms left undone. Achieving our country’s full potential is my mission as Mexico’s next president.
Enrique Peña Nieto is the president-elect of Mexico.