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Mexico’s Peña Nieto: “No president wakes up thinking how to screw his country over”

Government breaks off all ties with ex-Veracruz governor, who has been on the run since last week

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto.
Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. EFE

This week has seen Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto twice make a concerted effort to convince his country that he only has its best interests at heart.

On Monday, he accepted responsibility for the disastrous visit by Donald Trump in August. And on Tuesday, he highlighted his government’s achievements over the last four years, concluding a question-and-answer session at a business forum in the capital with the sarcastic comment: “I am sure that all past presidents had no other mission. I don’t think any president ever woke up thinking how to screw over Mexico.”

Peña Nieto has been assailed by bad news. Over the summer, it emerged that the president plagiarized his law school dissertation. Then came the awkward and unpopular visit to Mexico by the US Republican presidential candidate.

Peña Nieto insisted that he has the country’s best interests at heart

Last week Javier Duarte, the former governor of the state of Veracruz and a member of Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), went on the run after being charged with racketeering and money laundering by US authorities. It took Peña Nieto until Tuesday to expel Duarte from the ruling PRI.

Meanwhile, the disappearance of 43 college students in 2014 remains unsolved, along with thousands of other cases, and the country’s drug cartels continue to operate with seeming impunity.

During the business forum, organized by Mexican financial daily El Financiero and the Bloomberg news agency, Peña Nieto complained about the media’s focus on negative developments. Some of the speakers urged attendees to speak well of their country and “look at the forest, not the tree.”

Asked about his praise for Duarte when he took office in 2012, Peña Nieto said he did not remember referring to the disgraced governor as a possible candidate to succeed him: “I don’t remember the comment, but the party I am a member of, the PRI, is still a great party and it has undergone a tremendous overhaul. Not without mistakes, not without failures, as with all the political forces in this country,” he said.

Almost 2,000 people were murdered in Mexico in September, the highest figure in six years

“Each individual is responsible for their actions. The competent authorities will establish who did what,” he said in reference to Duarte.

Peña Nieto was also reminded by journalists of his own government’s report, issued last week, which showed that almost 2,000 people were murdered in Mexico in September, the highest figure in six years. Peña Nieto noted that figures are better now than under the previous administration, but said he is “not satisfied yet with security issues.”

Also present at the forum were the interim governors of the states of Colima and Tamaulipas, along with recently elected Alejandro Murat of Oaxaca. Colima, a major drugs shipment hub, registered the most killings in September, prompting its governor, Ignacio Peralta, to say that attracting investment to Mexico means being able to guarantee legal security and not just tax breaks.

The governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco García, mentioned Duarte and Guillermo Padrés, the governor of Sonora, also sought by US authorities. He said the way to regain the public’s trust in the wake of the Duarte and Padrés cases was through greater transparency: “We have to involve civil society in the use of public resources.”

English version by Nick Lyne.

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