By KILEY CAMPBELL
At this point in the tenure of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, any publicity is good publicity. His approval rating can’t sink much lower, having tanked to 12 percent by Jan. 19, 2017. For a time, he was less popular in his own country than our own tangerine-colored man-baby, President Donald Trump. Peña Nieto is two-thirds of the way through a term which has been plagued by constant scandals and protests of ever-increasing fury. Like Trump, he deserves every single bit of criticism he’s received. The incompetence of Trump and Peña Nieto cannot be compared, but Peña Nieto’s time as leader of Mexico has put the future of Mexico, as well as the future of U.S.-Mexico relations, in potential jeopardy.
Peña Nieto’s election in 2012 was clinched with 39 percent of the vote in a four-candidate race, and was immediately met with protest. Claims arose that Peña Nieto’s party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was guilty of bribing voters and opposition parties demanded a vote recount. The recount proved Peña Nieto had indeed won, but protest in Mexico hasn’t subsided since then. Peña Nieto began his term in December 2012 at a respectable, but modest, 54 percent approval rating. Little happened in his first year, but the early warning signs of corruption within the PRI- now the party in power- proved correct in September 2014.
A turn of events that have now become known metonymously as Ayotzinapa, 43 students from Ayotzinapa Teachers’ College disappeared after being arrested for commandeering buses for a protest. Independent international experts found that the federal government’s conclusion of its investigation into what happened was impossible. The kidnapping, and the subsequent cover-ups by the government, caused Peña Nieto’s approval rating to plummet and cast him as a power of banality not committed to solving actual problems.
Since Ayotzinapa, a series of unfortunate events and interior scandals eroded public trust in Peña Nieto. These range from the “Casa Blanca” scandal in which First Lady Angelica Rivera bought a $7 million home on credit through a contractor associated with the government, to the escape of drug kingpin El Chapo. Perhaps the most vicious criticisms target his complacency since 2016 in dealing with Trump, whose extraordinary controversy roots in scapegoating Mexican immigrants.
Trump visited Peña Nieto in August 2016, at Nieto’s invitation, a move that enraged the Mexican people. Peña Nieto told Trump in person that Mexico would not pay for the famed “wall,” but in many ways seemed to submit to Trump’s domineering obnoxiousness. After the meeting, Peña Nieto’s approval rating plummeted to 24 percent. Since Trump’s election, transcripts of phone conversations between the two have been leaked. Trump has been recorded asking Peña Nieto to keep quiet about Mexico’s refusal to fund the wall. The value of the peso plummeted immediately after Trump’s inauguration, and the price of gasoline rose nearly twenty percent overnight. It was at this point, political analysts concur, that Peña Nieto hit rock bottom, from which it will be nearly impossible to escape. Bafflingly, Peña Nieto recently announced the planned construction of a brand-new airport outside Mexico City, a city that is currently suffering from massive infrastructural problems and a lack of running water in many neighborhoods.
There is an importance to Peña Nieto’s blunders that goes beyond Mexico, however. In the Trump era, all eyes are on the nations Trump most often throws tantrums over. Peña Nieto is the most important potential defender against Trump, and yet he cowers. Peña Nieto’s complacency and constant stream of atrocities have chipped away at Mexico’s stability, making it all the easier for Trump to bully the country into submission. If Peña Nieto is not very careful in the time he has left as president, he will ensure Trump making good on his signature campaign promise, and from there create a domino effect. If Trump is able to accomplish this, it will be a sign to the rest of the world just how dangerous he really is.
This is just a premonition, but the further Peña Nieto slides down, the more likely it will be that it happens. He has the power to balance the scales of this bizarre political standoff, and decide the fate of international relationships between the United States and any nation that suits Trump’s fancy. Either Peña Nieto genuinely doesn’t understand what he has done over the last four years, or he doesn’t care. Both possibilities are equally disquieting.