By Michael Wissenstein
March 19 2013
He arrested the most powerful woman in Mexico, leader of the largest union in Latin America, on allegations of corruption that previous presidents saw but were too compromised to tackle. He is taking on the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, and pledges to bring diversity to a television industry dominated by the head of the largest network in Latin America, a scion of one of Mexico's leading families.
At one time all three were key allies of Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled for 71 years with a combination of coercion and corruption before being voted out of office in 2000. Now, Pena Nieto is declaring that there are no more sacred cows.
The moves have built momentum behind what could be his most dramatic and difficult reform – modernizing and drawing foreign and private capital to the behemoth state oil company, a long sacrosanct but increasingly inefficient pillar of the Mexican economy. On Sunday, at a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the nationalization of the Mexican oil business, Pena Nieto said again that he will transform Petroleos Mexicanos. The longtime head of the Pemex union, who had been expected by many to fight any changes but has been the subject of questions about unexplained family wealth, pledged his support.
Pena Nieto says his plan will make Mexico more democratic and competitive in the world economy, and his drive for reform is fueling international confidence about Mexico. Rating company Standard and Poor's raised the country's long-term sovereign credit rating from "stable" to "positive" last week, citing optimism about the government's ability to carry out structural changes. The Mexican peso is stronger against the dollar than it's been in a year and a half.
But some analysts warn against mistaking style for substance and making early declarations of victory against entrenched powers built up by the very party that now says it's trying to bring them to heel. It will take many months, in some cases years, before Pena Nieto's reform agenda becomes law and produces its first results, plenty of time for big promises to be derailed by special interests, institutional inertia and the PRI's old guard. Read more.