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Mexican president heads to Washington, hoping to put disastrous 2014 behind him

Category : Press

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto heads to Washington, D.C., on Monday to meet with Barack Obama amid civil unrest at home and uncertainty at his reception here.

Latinos in the U.S. upset about the government’s support of Mexico’s ongoing militarized war against the drug cartels are planning demonstrations across the country.

The Mexican president and his team started 2014 carrying out a slew of newly passed reforms, from breaking up telecommunications monopolies to opening the nation’s energy sector, earning him international plaudits, including a Time magazine cover with his image above the caption “Saving Mexico.”

Then came a 1-2-3 punch of scandals: Soldiers killing 22 civilians in a questionable “shootout”; the abduction and presumed murder of 43 college students, allegedly at the hands of local officials and police in league with a drug cartel; and revelations that Peña Nieto and his treasury secretary live in luxury homes built and financed by a favorite government contractor.

What was supposed to be “Mexico’s moment,” a new era of transparency and reform, felt a lot like the same old age of violence and corruption.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets since the 43 college students disappeared Sept. 26. Even institutions normally cautious about criticizing the government, including the Roman Catholic Church, have spoken out, and a Mexican protester disrupted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, to draw attention to the tragedy.

“The protests are an expression of people fed up with impunity, and indignant at the complicity between some authorities and criminals,” said Luis Raúl Gonzalez, president of the normally politic Human Rights Commission, speaking directly to Peña Nieto at a recent public event.

Roberto Lovato, one of the cofounders of #USTired2, the group coordinating the Tuesday demonstrations in cities across the U.S., said: “President Peña Nieto’s security forces are responsible for what is hands-down the worst human rights crisis in all of Latin America and deserves our denunciation, not our tax dollars or political support.”

Many analysts say that the Washington trip is essential for Peña Nieto to secure continued support of the U.S. in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels and, just as crucially, to convince American investors to put their money on Mexico.

“He’s coming to Washington to provide a boost for his presidency in 2015,” Jason Marczak, the deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council told Fox News Latino. “What Mexicans will be closely watching is: Will he leave Washington with something to show for his visit?”

When Peña Nieto took office two years ago, he promised Mexico would see a new Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, which had ruled Mexico for 71 years, often through coercion and corruption. After losing the presidency in 2000, the party portrayed itself as repentant and reconstructed.

Disillusioned by 12 years of opposition party rule, many Mexican voters returned to the PRI on the theory it at least knows how to govern.

But the purported “new PRI” has turned out to be younger politicians operating with the old playbook. Though its leaders were lauded for passing reforms, they had nothing to fall back on when violence knocked them off their message of economic growth.

They sent police to crack down on protesters and called the unrest a plot to “destabilize” the government and undermine the reforms.

Peña Nieto told the country, just weeks after their abduction, that it was time to “move beyond” the case of the 43 students, and he took a month to meet with their families.

The administration has tried to explain away the president’s $7 million mansion by saying it belonged to his wife, former soap opera actress Angelica Rivera, and it said Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray’s bought his house before he officially took office, although he was part of Peña Nieto’s transition team.

Yet he is facing a Mexico much changed in the years since the PRI left office, when the country was still largely isolated, had very little investigative media and no citizen watchdogs armed with cellphone cameras and social media.

Mexicans have responded irreverently to Peña Nieto’s defenses, which they have seen as arrogance and disconnect. One protest sign declared that it isn’t demonstrations that are destabilizing Mexico but “your narco-government corruption.”

Cabinet chief Aurelio Nuño admitted to the Spanish newspaper El Pais that the government didn’t have an adequate plan to deal with insecurity because it hadn’t understood the dimensions of the problem. Nevertheless, he said the answer was in the economic reforms.

Peña Nieto maintained the strategy late Sunday when he delivered a New Year’s message acknowledging “a difficult year.”

“The violence of organized crime hit the country once again,” he said, adding that Mexico “can’t continue the same.” But his answer is that 2015 would be a year of lower gas, electricity and telephone bills, thanks to the reforms.

Peña Nieto’s economic strategy has yet to pay off in investment or growth — one of the main reasons his approval ratings recently hit 38 percent, the lowest for any Mexican president since the peso crisis of 20 years ago. Oil prices are in the basement just as Mexico is opening its energy sector to foreign bidders, and job growth is stagnant.

Once-favorable coverage in media abroad has turned scathing.

Pressing Videgaray in an interview, CNBC correspondent Michelle Caruso-Cabrera said, “If Barbara Bush were living in a house built by Halliburton, her husband would have been impeached.”

All levels of government have been sullied, with mayors and state police found to be in cahoots with organized crime, and prosecutors more interested in solving political problems than crimes.

The military, which has spearheaded anti-drug efforts, was stained by allegations that soldiers shot suspects who had already surrendered, when the army initially said it killed them in a fierce shootout in June. Federal Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam didn’t investigate until three months later, after news media found witnesses who contradicted the official version.

Mexico’s major parties are all viewed negatively, leaving few options for those disappointed with Peña Nieto. The city officials directly implicated in the attack on the students and state officials who carried out the initial, floundering investigation were backed by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party that has long crusaded against PRI corruption.

In his Sunday address, Peña Nieto promised to be a better listener, and to “combat corruption and impunity and strengthen transparency.”

But once again, he offered no specifics.

Article originally posted on Fox News Latino

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L.A. woman travels to D.C. to protest Peña Nieto’s visit

Category : Press

Nansi Cisneros has been posting missing person flyers on Twitter and Facebook since her brother disappeared in Mexico in October, 2013. Now she’s traveling across country from her home in Los Angeles to Washington D.C. to protest Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s visit to the White House because she says the president’s administration has done nothing to help her find her brother.

“Peña Nieto’s government hasn’t been able to help me with my brother’s disappearance or the other thousands of disappearances that are going on in Mexico,” said the U.S.-born Cisneros, 33. “To me, he’s not welcomed in the country where I’m from.”

Cisneros is one of thousands of people who will are expected to protest Peña Nieto’s Jan. 6 visit as part of a campaign called #USTired2.

Cisneros’ brother Javier was making a living as a tattoo artist in the U.S. when he was deported to Mexico in late 2013. But soon after in October 2013 Nansi Cisneros says her brother was kidnapped from his home in Tala, Jalisco.

“We have government leaders telling us that the only people that are murdered or disappear are people who were looking for trouble,” Cisneros told Fusion. “But not all the disappearances are related to that,” she went on to say, denying her brother had anything to do with gangs or drug trafficking.

The international organization Human Rights Watch analyzed 250 “disappearances” cases that occurred in Mexico between 2007-2013 and found evidence in about half the cases that suggested they were enforced disappearances — ”meaning that state agents participated directly in the crime, or indirectly through support or acquiescence.”

In September 2014, 43 students were disappeared from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in the state of Guerrero, Mexico.

An investigation published last month by Mexican news magazine Proceso, implicated Federal Police in the attack on Ayotzinapa students and alleged that the Peña Nieto administration has covered up the federales’ role in the incident for over two months.

The Mexican government denies the allegations made by Proceso.

Organizers of the #USTired2 campaign are urging the Obama administration to revisit U.S. funded drug trafficking programs that provide financial aid to Mexico’s security forces.

“Two years into his administration, it’s now abundantly clear that instead of ‘saving Mexico,’ Peña Nieto and his failed policies are destroying Mexico to the point where it is disgraceful that our President [Obama] is even meeting with a Mexican Administration that, under US law, should have its funding cut for massive human rights violations,” said Roberto Lovato, one of the founders of #USTired2, in a statement sent to Fusion.

“How many US-funded massacres will it take before Obama and Congress shift course on Mexico?”, Lovato went on to ask.

Cisneros arrived in Washington D.C. on Saturday. She’s planning on protesting in front of the White House and she’s has scheduled meetings with elected officials, including staffers for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA.)

Cisneros says she wants everyone to know that “Mexico has a human rights problem.”

“Mexico has a lot of people missing and this happens everyday,” Cisneros said.

Article originally posted on Fusion by Jorge Rivas (on Twitter @thisisjorge)

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Mexico’s embattled president looks for a fresh start in Washington

Category : Press

Bruised and battered from a series of scandals, and amid cries of protest, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will arrive in Washington Tuesday to meet with President Obama and try to turn the page on a difficult year.

Slumping in the polls and facing a crisis of public confidence, Peña Nieto is hoping for an Obama bounce. “He’ll be playing as much to a domestic audience in Mexico as he will be playing to a White House audience,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

But few expect a major new initiative to be announced at the meeting.

“The Mexicans want to go home with something,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who has close ties to the Peña Nieto administration. “I hope that President Peña Nieto can go back with something that will be good for his country and our country.”

John Bailey, a U.S.-Mexico public security expert at Georgetown University, expects no surprises during the visit. “I don’t see any big problems or major announcements of big ideas, at least public opinion isn’t prepared for anything,” he said. Bailey said he expects the White House to offer Peña Nieto full support on issues of security and human rights, at least publicly.

But Obama will be walking a fine line both at home and in Mexico, where U.S. security support can be viewed as yanqui meddling.

“The situation is delicate in Mexico,” Bailey said. “So I suspect the U.S. will avoid comment on specific issues and express general confidence and commitment to cooperate.”

Obama and Peña Nieto also plan to discuss economic issues, such as the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and ways to “increase cooperation” in the energy sector, according to senior administration officials. Vice President Biden and Mexican Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray will also lead high-level trade talks between Mexican and U.S. officials.

U.S.-Cuba relations and deportation relief for undocumented immigrants will also be on the agenda, as well as a controversial $2.3 billion security agreement known as the Merida Initiative.

Mostly, Peña Nieto hopes his first presidential visit to Washington will serve as an opportunity to shift attention away from violence and corruption and back to his economic reforms.

It’ll be a tough task. Peña Nieto’s approval rating has fallen to 39 percent, the lowest of his presidency, according to a poll released last month by Reforma newspaper. Demonstrators upset about the government’s handling of citizen security plan to protest across the U.S. Tuesday.

The Mexican leader began 2014 by pushing through a set of sweeping reforms, including opening the country’s energy sector to private investment, breaking up telecom and broadcast monopolies, and instituting merit-based pay for teachers.

But by the end of the year the president’s reforms had been eclipsed by a series of controversies that rattled the society’s confidence in their government. In September, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college disappeared. The government’s slow response to investigate triggered a massive wave of protests. Peña Nieto also faced scrutiny over allegations that a government contractor designed a $7 million home for the Mexican first lady.

Human Rights Watch is calling on Obama to pressure Peña Nieto on “abuses” committed by Mexican law enforcement authorities. “Peña Nieto’s administration must not minimize this profound crisis by pretending it doesn’t exist,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Division.

An Obama administration official told reporters Monday that Peña Nieto’s government has taken clear steps to carry out the Ayotzinapa investigation, arresting the mayor implicated in the case, and that Mexico is “working to improve the performance of law enforcement.”

The Mexican president, meanwhile, wants to change the conversation altogether.

“For President Peña Nieto the objective is clear: try and get people back to talking about his reform agenda, and move the discussion about Mexico away from Ayotzinapa and allegations of graft and corruption,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza.

Article originally posted on Fusion by Jordan Fabian (on Twitter @Jordanfabian) and Rafael Fernandez De Castro (on Twitter @rafafc91)