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Mexican president’s Coca-Cola joke falls flat

Embattled leader Enrique Peña Nieto hoped to add fizz to a speech about innovation

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto speaking at the United Nations.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto speaking at the United Nations. AP

The president was not wearing a tie. He was sporting a blue jacket, white shirt and that perfect smile he usually wears for public and official events. He walked up to to the podium to speak at the opening ceremony of a center for innovation created by the well-known soft drinks company and said it.

“I can tell you that the president of the republic drinks Coca-Cola every day [applause]; Coca-Cola. Light. I hope that’s good publicity for your products. Well, I don’t know anymore.”

“Well, I don’t know anymore.” In those few words Enrique Peña Nieto summarized, without sarcasm, the current state of his presidency. The Mexican leader who hypnotized the West four years ago and who Time Magazine put a 2014 cover under the title “Saving Mexico” is now facing dark times.

In a way, the die is already cast. Peña Nieto has less than two years left and then he will become ancient history.

A recent disastrous Donald Trump visit is not the only reason for some of the lowest popularity ratings on record. Peña Nieto has left some dreams behind. Perhaps his greatest aspiration was to promote economic growth robust enough to end poverty, a curse that has kept 45% of the population captive for decades.

It was the goal of every reform his administration proposed. Yet, four years later, the 2017 budget shows that such a feat will be impossible to accomplish.

The die, in a way, is already cast. Peña Nieto has less than two years left as president and then, as is usual in Mexico, he will recede into the distant past. Still, he still has a few moves left. The biggest one, besides tidying up his image for posterity, is to make sure a fellow Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) member wins the next presidential election. And that is no easy task.

The PRI, worn out by corruption scandals and widespread anger at its failure to improve life for Mexicans, lost its footing in the last regional elections. And none of the president’s close associates excite voters. But to give the PRI up for dead would be a mistake. Power runs in its bones. And losing the 2018 electoral battle, after crossing the desert for 12 years, would be traumatic. Peña Nieto knows that and he must decide how to avoid such a fate. Whether that’s good for Coca-Cola or not.

English version by Dyane Jean-Francois

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