|Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto/ Source: LA Times/EPA|
After 17 months in office, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's bubble has burst, but no one seems to have noticed. U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry should use his visit to Mexico City this week to radically rethink policy toward this important southern neighbor.
President Obama has placed all his bets on Peña Nieto. In his recent visits to the country, the president has showered his Mexican counterpart with praise and extolled the virtues of his supposedly "modernizing" program. But today Peña Nieto has the lowest public approval rating of any president in recent Mexican history. Only 37% of the population approves of his performance, even according to pollsters close to the sitting government. In cosmopolitan Mexico City, his approval rating drops to 19%, according to independent surveys.
These numbers are particularly shocking because Mexican citizens are well known for their presidential reverence. One of the inheritances of almost a century of authoritarian one-party rule is that presidential approval ratings only rarely dip below 50%.
Mexican officials brush off Peña Nieto's numbers as a result of economic stagnation and drug war violence. Indeed, these have been two of his principal failures. The economy is stuck in the mud, with only 1.3% growth during 2013, the lowest minimum wage in Latin America and skyrocketing food prices. There were more than 18,000 violent killings and more than 2,500 kidnappings in 2013.
But the difficult economic and public security situations are not enough to explain the unprecedented drop in approval. Former President Felipe Calderon, who served from 2006 to 2012, for instance, never had numbers as low as Peña Nieto's. And Calderon presided over even more drug war carnage, as well as an economy in which Mexico lost 9.4% of its GDP over four quarters during the global financial crisis of 2008-09...
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