Tag Archives: Mexican elections

Enrique Peña Nieto’s Sarah Palin Moment

6 Dec

Photo by Ricardo Carreon

The ribbing Mexican presidential pre-candidate Enrique Peña Nieto is taking right now is the subject of today’s admittedly schadenfreude-flavoured blog post.

Yet the predicament of this weirdly handsome-but-not really, Astro-Boy favourite of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party  says a great deal about politics and politicians in that troubled land.

First the facts: Peña Nieto is the former governor of the State of Mexico, and nephew of another former governor, Arturo Montiel, whose full-on process of illegal enrichment ended in 2005, when PRI forces lined up against him. Now, thanks to the generalized disenchantment with President Felipe Calderon and the current ruling party, polls are putting Peña Nieto well ahead of any other contender.

Peña Nieto was at the renowned International Book Fair in Guadalajara last weekend to promote a book — Mexico: the Great Hope — he has ostensibly written. When asked by a member of the audience to name three books that influenced him, he was stymied.  Books? After some prevarication and floundering, one book, the Bible, did finally spring to his mind.

The event has since given rise to a number of jocular posters, with messages like: “Don’t give Peña Nieto your vote. Give him a book.”

It also reminded Proceso magazine’s Alvaro Delgado today of an episode three years ago when another politician gave Peña Nieto a book he’d written. “I really don’t like to read,” he told the author, according to Delgado. “I’ll ask my assistants to write up some flash cards with its most important points.”

Even more newsworthy however are the comments Peña Nieto’s teenage daughter, Paulina, posted afterwards on Twitter, describing his critics as a “bunch of idiots who only form part of the proletariat and only criticize those they envy.”

Peña Nieto’s soap opera-actress wife, Angelica Rivera,  no intellectual giant herself, also used her 140 characters for a few harsh sentiments: “Osea (sic), yo creo que si los indios quieren salir de donde están que se pongan a trabajar y dejen de estar de flojos o violentos, como en Atenco”.

Loosely translated, I can tell you she suggests that if the “Indians” want out of where they are (i.e. poverty) then they should damn well get to work and stop being lazy and violent.

If the fact that these representatives of Mexico’s ruling class didn’t stand an excellent chance of actually running the country by next year, all of this would be laughable. Instead, the prospect, in a nation that is primarily indigenous, is downright terrifying.

The entire incident shows not only the disdain in which anyone but the rich, the corrupt and now, the ignorant as well, are held by Mexico’s powerful political elite. It also shows their disdain for education in general. Thanks to its high dropout rate, the average educational level in Mexico is no more than Canada’s equivalent Grade 8.

While enrollment is high in primary schools, under teachers’ union president-for-life (and Peña Nieto mentor) Elba Esther Gordillo, resources are scarce, curricula hide-bound and academic performance low, with Mexican school children consistently scoring among the lowest of the OECD countries, and the lowest in Latin America.

University education is publicly funded, but there are nowhere near enough places for all who want to attend. Dropout rates are also extremely high, so that less than 10 per cent of Mexicans aged 18 and older holds a bachelor’s degree.

Aside from all that, however, as Delgado writes, “Peña Nieto’s ignorance isn’t only a bookish “error,” but also a conception of Mexico and the world in which ethical principles are subservient to the securing of one’s ends, no matter the means.”

The fact that an aspirant to the government of a country of more than 100 million people doesn’t like, and can’t be bothered, to read only highlights the thoughtlessness with which he plans to govern. The fact that he claims to have written a book and everyone is supposed to believe this, only highlights the lack of transparency and honesty in the entire political system.

Mexico doesn’t need an intellectual genius to head the government. But it does need an honest and capable and compassionate one. So while Peña Nieto’s gaffe may seem like farce, its implications are tragic.