By RICARDO CASTILLO
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is leaving office with a bang. Today, Friday, Nov. 30, he is in Buenos Aires meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to sign the would-be final draft of the new North American Free Trade Agreement, or whatever it is called nowadays. (I say would-be because on Thursday Nov 29, in a last minute notice, the Canadians announced they were still making changes to their side of the new NAFTA.)
It’s good for Peña Nieto to be away from Mexico; he doesn’t have to put up with all the bad press his administration is getting because on a last minute basis, Mexican Foreign Relation Secretary Luis Videgaray managed to have the feeble Peña Nieto agree to awarding Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with the Aztec Eagle Medal, awarded by the Foreign Relations Secretariat to foreigners who have done distinguished duties to favor Mexico.
Videgaray has spent his last defense bullets on radio interviews justifying Kushner’s deserving the Aztec Eagle (made of pure Mexican gold) because he managed to save NAFTA from Trump’s destroy-it-all hands. Cancelling NAFTA, as Tweeting Don had planned to do, would have been a devastating blow to the Mexican economy. Kushner played the buffer man between Trump and Peña Nieto in salvaging the free-trade accord.
Videgaray keeps claiming, and rightly so, that Kushner was a key element in bringing the NAFTA ship to safe shore and he deserves the medal.
Yet the massive protest in Mexico’s social media and press is that Kushner’s got an obstacle to receiving the medal: Donald Trump, his daddy-in-law. (I think I don’t need to go over the insults The Don made against Mexico; Mexicans have a keen collective memory).
But there’s no going back. Kushner will get the medal and that’s that for Kushner. But it’s not the end for Videgaray, the brain behind the downfall of Peña Nieto, who leaves office, according to the latest polls, with a 20 percent acceptance rating against an 80 percent rebuke, half of which he owes to Videgaray, mainly for coming up with the idea on Aug. 31, 2016, of inviting Trump to salute Peña Nieto.
Now, says economist and new appointee to the Bank of Mexico (Banxico) board of directors Jonathan Heath, that with it “finally Peña Nieto and Videgaray carried out the impossible feat: to unify all of Mexico against them, that’s their way to go out.”
Recently Videgaray said that he was retiring from politics. Surely the guy has a huge ego, thinking in terms of his greatness, who once saw himself as the man who would succeed Peña Nieto. The fact is that with the negative reaction Videgaray provoked, there is no question in anyone’s mind that awarding Kushner the Aztec Eagle medal signifies the last shovel of dirt Videgaray is dumping over his own political grave. He could very well say to himself, “hasta la vista, baby.”
During the past week still-President Peña Nieto — his term ends midnight tonight -– has travelled to different parts of the nation to “inaugurate” unfinished road works and hospitals. That’s not strange, because that’s what past Mexican presidents have traditionally done to stay somewhat and somewhere in the positive news.
But columnists in the Mexican press have been mercilessly pounding his shortcomings. Here are some quotes of what writers in different newspapers have written on Peña Nieto’s six-year term:
For instance, says Vianey Esquinca in Excelsior daily: “He is bragging that he complied with 97 percent of the commitments he made in his presidential campaign. The problem is that the remaining 3 percent he did not comply with and those were the promises of ending violence, corruption and poverty. That ‘insignificant’ 3 percent was what cost his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to lose the past elections and carry both of them to the abyss of unpopularity. He will be remembered as the head of state who ran in the beginning like a fine breed horse and finished his race like a lazy burro.”
Macario Schettino of El Financiero daily business newspaper says the following about Peña Nieto’s performance at the helm of the PRI: “Even though all the PRI members have considered Ernesto Zedillo (Mexican president from 1994 to 2000) as a traitor who allowed the victory of Vicente Fox in 2000, and with that, the first defeat of the PRI at the presidential level, the undertaker is not that technocrat (Zedillo) who came on board at the hand of former President Carlos Salinas. The man finishing the life of the PRI is a lifetime long politician, who stemmed out of the traditional power nucleus of the old regime: Enrique Peña Nieto.”
Rogelio Muñiz Toledo of Aristegui Noticias in an end-of-term appraisal says: “Peña Nieto and the PRI conclude their political adventure with several former governors, all from the ‘new generation of PRI members,’ either on the lam or charged of embezzlement of public funds and with emblematic conflicts of interest and corruption, such as Odebrecht, the White House (a kickback Peña Nieto took from a construction company) and the Master Fraud, which came to light thanks to journalistic research made by the team of journalists headed by Carmen Aristegui and news portal Animal Político and Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity.”
Definitely, the still-operational and propagandistic federal government under President Enrique Peña Nieto is aware that the negative press barrage is answering with figures. According to an Economy Secretariat press release: “Accumulated direct foreign investment during the current administration rose to 198,733 billion, 26 percent more than forecast six years ago.” That’s positive finance news.
Indeed, the new government receives a heavily devalued peso and a humongous increase in public debt – lend me, I’ll pay mañana – but as an old car salesman told me when I bought my first $100 dollar 1948 Dodge back in 1960 in Old Laredo, Texas, “it may look battered, but it’s running.”
Hasta la vista, Peña Nieto.