Old guard getting reins in México troubling to rights observers

Enrique Peña Nieto, the presumed new president of México, is a marketer’s dream. He is ranked among the country’s most handsome politicians and married Televisa soap opera star Angelica Rivera in 2010.

He also served as governor of the State of México from 2005 to 2011. His performance there and his membership in the Partido Revolucionario Institucional is causing concern among human rights activists.

With 98 percent of the votes counted, Peña Nieto has 38 percent while former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel López Obrador has 31 percent. ​López Obrador calls the results fraudulent and something no one can accept. His left-wing party will decide whether to formally challenge the results after all votes are counted.

Peña Nieto’s party, known as PRI, ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000, when voters elected Partido Acción Nacional candidate Vicente Fox. Outgoing President Felipe Calderón also represents Acción Nacional. His administration has been plagued by economic stagnation and rampant drug violence.

During its seven decades in power, the PRI developed political machinery of an authoritarian and corporatist nature that fostered a culture emphasizing loyalty and obedience to those in power rather than the assertion of rights, according to Mariclaire Acosta. Its ability to rule a country as diverse and complex as Mexico for so long stemmed from its exploitation of revolutionary legitimacy as well as a skillful combination of social reforms, cooptation, and repression of the opposition,
she said. Ms. Acosta is an academic, a recognized human rights activist and the director of Freedom House – Mexico.

After the 2000 election, the PRI continued to govern in many of Mexico’s states, generally continuing the practices that have characterized it through most of the 20th century, she said in an interview on the eve of the elections.

Peña Nieto visited a Jesuit private university in May and failed to defend himself well against allegations over his role in violent repression of a popular protest in the town of Atenco when he was governor, according to Ms. Acosta.

From that encounter the YoSoy132 movement was born, she noted. The name “I am 132” comes from the initial number of the unhappy students who were vilified in the national television.

“The movement has proven to be a vigorous one, bringing together students from public and private universities,” she said. “It has forced the television networks to change their coverage of the electoral process, and it has catalyzed opposition to the PRI’s comeback.”

She expresseded concern that the election of Peña Nieto would stall a move toward democracy in México.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Peña Nieto to congratulate him and offer U.S. support in meeting mutual goals.

Peña Nieto told supporters that Mexicans have voted for a change in direction, but he vowed to keep pressure on drug cartels.

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