A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.


August 2011

Proceso's special issue on Enrique Peña Nieto outlines
his opposition to consecutive re-election in Mexico, his ties to the church and his successful marketing campaigns

pena nieto cover procesoMexico state Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto is opposed to consecutive re-election in Mexico, and if he becomes president next year, a law to allow it could be off the table until 2018. He attended the Panamerican University in Mexico City, run by the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei. He is from Atlacomulco, birthplace of many of the Institutional Revolutionary Party politicians who have run Mexico state over the years and who have held high posts in the federal government. He is related to several former Mexico state governors and has powerful patrons. All this information and much, much more is contained in Proceso's sixth special issue of "The Aspirants," this one on the man polls show as the odds-on favorite to become president of Mexico next year. "Peña Nieto is a resounding success of branding or market positioning," Proceso says. The magazine says that although he has fewer than 12 years in the public eye, he has 92.2% name recognition in Mexico, second only to Andrés Manuel López Obrador's 95% name recognition among presidential candidates. The magazine, featuring an apparently pensive Peña Nieto on the cover, also is titled "The Arrogance" and demonstrates a critical tone in many of its articles, headlines and photo selection.

Related to several former governors: On his father's side, Peña Nieto is related to former governors Alfredo del Mazo González and his father, Alfredo del Mazo Vélez. Alfredo del Mazo Vélez was governor from 1945-1951, following Grupo Atlacomulco founder Isidro Fabela to the post. On his mother's side, he is related to Salvador Sánchez Colín, governor from 1951-1957. Sánchez Colín was a key figure in the career of Carlos Hank González, who governed the state from 1969-1975 and who is the father of former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon and Mexico state banker Carlos Hank Rhon. Alfredo del Mazo González was governor from 1981-1987.

Peña Nieto, 45, also apparently is distantly related on his mother's side to Arturo Montiel, the governor from 1999-2005 who selected Peña Nieto as his successor. Montiel in his biography relates how he helped save the life of Peña Nieto's father, Enrique Peña del Mazo, after the father drove his car off a road. Enrique Peña del Mazo was a Federal Electricity Commission engineer who married Socorro Nieto Sánchez, a teacher.

Mexico state gubernatorial candidate selection: Peña Nieto is practical. By most accounts, he was planning to work it so that his cousin, Alfredo del Mazo Maza, would have been the PRI candidate for Mexico state governor this year. But Peña Nieto was apparently persuaded to switch to popular Ecatepec Mayor Eruviel Ávila, who some feared would have bolted the PRI to run as a coalition candidate for the National Action Party and Democratic Revolution Party. Ávila won the July 3 election with more than 60% of the vote; the PAN and PRD ran separate candidates who went nowhere. In Mexico state, candidates appear to be still picked using the old dedazo system, whereby the Mexican president chose his successor, after consulting other party leaders. Peña Nieto was picked that way, as was Eruviel. Proceso reported that teachers union leader Elba Esther Gordillo was among those urging Peña Nieto to switch to Ávila. (The magazine uses one of the worst photos of Gordillo possible on a two-page article about her and Peña Nieto; he has said an alliance with her New Alliance Party is possible for the 2012 election.)

Re-election: Peña Nieto is opposed to consecutive re-election for legislators, and also opposes independent candidacies, both key elements in a proposed political reform that has stalled. Some say Peña Nieto has been one of those responsible for holding the legislation up. He is in favor, however, of changing electoral law so that parties that win 40% of the vote obtain a legislative majority. Part of Mexico's problem since 1997 is that no party has held a majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, making it difficult to pass major legislation.

Other issues: The 50-page magazine essentially does not address them. What, for example, is his position on how to deal with Mexico's organized-crime violence, which has also hit Mexico state hard? It could be that Proceso did not focus on issues because of what writer Enrique Krauze told Poder magazine for its July issue: "We don't know what his foreign policy vision is, just as we also don't know what his vision is about anything. He is a charismatic and articulate man, but he has kept such a level of discretion that we don't know what his political project is."

His wife dies: Peña Nieto met his first wife, Mónica Pretelini, when both were working for the 1993 gubernatorial campaign of Emilio Chuayffet. They had three children. Peña Nieto says he came home late from a day of touring the state in January 2007 and found her unconscious in bed after she suffered a seizure. There has been a lot of talk about the death, and the talk appears to have followed the Mexican saying, "Mucho ruido pero pocas nueces" (a lot of noise about nothing.) Proceso says Mexico state federal Deputy María Elena Pérez de Tejada said on the floor of Congress that the governor "is accused of having killed his wife" — a statement that the PRI got erased from Mexico's congressional record, but can be seen on YouTube (it is at around the 5:20 mark). PRI legislators pointed out that while some may have thought or think that there was a conspiracy in the death of Peña Nieto's wife, there was no proof to back up such a belief.

His new wife is a TV star: The branding and marketing campaign for Peña Nieto and Mexico state put him into contact angelica riverawith Angélica Rivera, famous for her role as La Gaviota in the Televisa soap opera "Distilling Love." She was chosen to play a role in promoting Peña Nieto's campaign of 300 Promises Met to the state's citizens. He asked her out. They decided to get married. There was the matter of her previous marriage to Televisa producer José Alberto "El Guero" Castro, brother of Televisa celebrity Verónica Castro, but the Vatican apparently said her previous marriage somehow did not count, although there is a dispute whether she was married on an Acapulco beach or in a church. Some see the wedding as just another part of Peña Nieto's marketing campaign. Proceso labeled its article on the marriage "La farsa rosa" — the pink farce. In December 2009, Peña Nieto went to the Vatican with Rivera, a Mexican archbishop and Televisa, and told the pope he would soon be married. That is how the proposed marriage got announced; Peña Nieto later said he did not realize the mike was on. The church did tell them not to have a big church wedding, however. The Nov. 27, 2010 wedding was not televised but was filmed by a commercial company. Presiding over the ceremony in San José Cathedral in Toluca was Chihuahua Bishop Constantino Miranda, former bishop of Atlacomulco.
Update: In 2012, it came out that Peña Nieto had fathered a son in an affair that took place during his first marriage. Peña Nieto also has three stepchildren through his second wife.

Branding and marketing campaign: It perhaps could be said that the National Action Party's attempts to get reforms and other legislation passed have helped created a monster of sorts that will drive the PAN to defeat in the 2012 election. Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón, in their efforts to get legislation passed, have transferred large amounts of money to state governments. Governors, in part in exchange for getting their delegations to vote certain ways, have received bundles of money with few strings attached. Peña Nieto chose to spend vast sums of money on si yo fuera presidente book advertising and marketing with Televisa; the deal apparently included Televisa covering Peña Nieto. Proceso says it received in October 2005 a copy of the first contract, which was for for 327.4 million pesos in advertising spots during a yearlong period in 2005 and 2006. It also called for 364.3 million pesos for 188 news items on Televisa news shows, three reports on the "The Reporters" TV show, which airs on Sunday nights, six interviews on news shows and three appearances on Héctor Aguilar Camín's "Zona Abierta (Open Zone). At the time, Televisa denied that it "sells or compromises its editorial integrity." Beyond this, Peña Nieto was presented with a contract for 10.8 million pesos to appearance in 37 "publicity reports" (publirreportajes) in Televisa's magazine empire, including five such reports in the society magazine Caras (Faces). The contract also called for more than 31 million pesos to be spent on political communication strategies, creative and other services with consulting and other companies linked to Televisa. The peso was worth around 10.8 to the dollar around September 2005, so 327.4 million pesos=$30.3 million; 364.3 million pesos=$33.7 million; 10.8 million pesos=$1 million; 31 million pesos=$2.9 million. The grand total: around $67.9 million for all the contract, although both Televisa and the state government denied that much money was involved. Much of Jenaro Villamil's reporting on the contract previously appeared in Proceso and in his book, "If I Were President: The reality show of Peña Nieto."

The strategy recommended to Peña Nieto was to distance himself as quickly and as far away as possible from his mentor and predecessor as governor, Arturo Montiel, because of the corruption scandals Montiel's government suffered. It recommended that Peña Nieto also sign advertising contracts with Televisa's rival, TV Azteca, and with other media organizations.

Peña Nieto's government was accused of promoting his national profile in buying airtime to promote his state-of-the-state address in September 2010 in what would be a violation of federal electoral law. His government responded that because of the location of Mexico state, in a kind of horseshoe around Mexico City, the government often has to buy national airtime to get its message across. The federal electoral tribunal let Peña Nieto off, blaming Televisa and TV Azteca for the national transmission of the advertising spots. Critics complained that before the ruling was made, the chief judge of the tribunal, María del Carmen Alanís, attended a dinner with Mexico state government representatives.

Public works: The money spent on advertising and image building pales with the amount spent on public works, which Proceso says totals 120 billion pesos, or around $10 billion, in transportation infrastructure alone. Many have claimed there were irregularities and favoritism in the contracts and that the projects made ejido members displaced from their lands unhappy. Peña Nieto's government also was involved in an effort to build 500,000 homes in the state and the Hospital de Alta Especialidad in Zumpango. The Hank Rhon family has benefited from some of the contracts. The multimillion Mexibús system has been plagued by irregularities and only 16 kilometers have been built so far, Proceso says. If Peña Nieto has an Achilles heel, the irregularities in public spending might be it, just as corruption was for Montiel; Proceso devoted five pages to the state's spending, entitling the section "The Route of Ambition."

carlos salinasSalinas connection: Many claim Peña Nieto has a close connection to former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), who can still pull strings in Mexico while still being reviled by much of the public. On July 27, 2005, Salinas attended the funeral of Peña Nieto's father. Salinas also attended Peña Nieto's inauguration on Sept. 15, 2005 (Sept. 15 is also the day Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain) but was so poorly received he wound up departing the ceremony. In a March 4, 2011 interview with Carlos Loret de Mola on Televisa, Peña Nieto said Salinas was not the force behind him and "neither is he my adviser nor collaborator. I insist: the only relationship is one of respect and cordiality, like those I have with all former presidents of Mexico." Still, Proceso says multiple testimonies indicate that from 2003, Salinas promoted Peña Nieto. Proceso reported that Salinas has influence in the Mexican Congress and helped Peña Nieto gain more influence there.

José Antonio Crespo column: Noted political analyst José Antonio Crespo wrote an article entitled "El imbatible," or "The unbeatable." Crespo points out that in the run-up to the 2006 election, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party had a huge lead and was seen as unbeatable. Crespo said López Obrador made the mistake of thinking that meant he had won and decided not to participate in the first presidential debate. This and other mistakes, such as not listening to advisers, cost López Obrador dearly, and he narrowly lost the election to Calderón. Crespo says Peña Nieto has consistently been above 50% in the polls, and asked whether he could fall like López Obrador. Crespo also asks whether it is because of luck or political skill that Peña Nieto is doing so well and concludes that it is both. Crespo says Peña Nieto is much less likely to make the huge mistakes that López Obrador did. Helping him is his good relationship with the TV networks, the business community, PRI governors, the church, his marriage to a TV star, his good looks and his willingness to listen to his advisers. Crespo said that while López Obrador swam against the current, Peña Nieto is swimming with it. Crespo said scandals that could have damaged Peña Nieto's image, such as the death of his first wife, have not done so. He said Peña Nieto showed political smarts to change his mind and pick Eruviel Ávila as the PRI's Mexico state gubernatorial candidate this year and lucky that López Obrador chose not to allow the PRD to nominate a joint candidate with the PAN in the race. He says it is difficult to say Peña Nieto represents the "new PRI," despite his relative youth. Crespo says Peña Nieto's opposition to re-election would keep Mexico as an archaic anomaly among the world's democracies and is more a throwback to the PRI of the 1930s and 1940s.

Attendance at Catholic university: Peña Nieto attended Panamerican University, where he studied law from 1984-88. The university in Mexico City is run by the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei. Elio Masferrer Kan, who Proceso says specializes in church involvement in the electoral process, told the magazine: "It would be an exaggeration to say that the governor belongs to Opus Dei, but he has cultivated good relations with the bishops." Peña Nieto's thesis was titled, "Mexican Presidentialism and Álvaro Obregón." Obregón, a general who won many battles in the Mexican Revolution, was president from 1920-24 and had been re-elected when he was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic in 1928. Peña Nieto examined the presidencies of Benito Juárez, Porfirio Díaz and Venustiano Carranza. This paper could have helped Peña Nieto arrive at his opposition to re-election, as the issue of re-election was a major theme in the presidencies he studied; then again, it could just be that Peña has concluded that not having re-election makes life easier for his fellow politicians, who move from post to post (while this might not be so good for the public at large).

Peña Nieto later received a master's in business administration from the Technological Institute of Higher Learning of Monterrey.