Biography of Enrique Pena Nieto, Former President of Mexico

Enrique Pena Nieto
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Enrique Peña Nieto (born July 20, 1966) is a Mexican lawyer and politician. A member of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), he was elected president of Mexico in 2012 for a six-year term. Mexican presidents are only allowed to serve a single term.

Fast Facts: Enrique Peña Nieto

  • Known For: President of Mexico, 2012–2018
  • Born: July 20, 1966 in Atlacomulco, State of Mexico, Mexico
  • Parents: Gilberto Enrique Peña del Mazo, María del Perpetuo Socorro Ofelia Nieto Sánchez
  • Education: Panamerican University
  • Awards and Honors: Collar of the Order of the Aztec Eagle, National Order of Juan Mora Fernández, Grand Cross with Gold Plaque, Order of Prince Henry, Grand Collar, Order of Isabella the Catholic, Grand Cross
  • Spouse(s): Mónica Pretelini, Angélica Rivera
  • Children: Paulina, Alejandro, Nicole (with Pretelini), one additional child outside marriage with Maritza Díaz Hernández
  • Notable Quote: "I hope for my children, and for all Mexicans, that they can be proud to be Mexican, proud of their heritage, and proud that they have a peaceful, inclusive, vibrant country that is playing a role in the world."

Early Life

Enrique Peña Nieto was born on July 20, 1966 in Atlacomulco, a town about 50 miles northwest of Mexico City. His father Severiano Peña was an electrical engineer and the mayor of the town of Acambay, located in the State of Mexico. Two uncles served as governors of the same state. During his junior year in high school, he went to Denis Hall School in Alfred, Maine to learn English. In 1984 he enrolled at the Panamerican University in Mexico City, where he earned a degree in legal studies.

Marriage and Children

Enrique Peña Nieto married Mónica Pretelini in 1993: she died suddenly in 2007, leaving him three children. He remarried in 2010 in a "fairytale" wedding to Mexican telenovelas star Angelica Rivera. He had a child out of wedlock in 2005. His attention to this child (or lack thereof) has been a persistent scandal.

Political Career

Enrique Peña Nieto got an early start on his political career. He was a community organizer while still in his early 20s and has maintained a presence in politics ever since. In 1999, he worked on the campaign team of Arturo Montiel Rojas, who was elected governor of Mexico State. Montiel rewarded him with the position of administrative secretary. Peña Nieto was elected to replace Montiel in 2005 as governor, serving from 2005–2011. In 2011, he won the PRI Presidential nomination and immediately became the front-runner for the 2012 elections.

2012 Presidential Election

Peña had been a well-liked governor: he had delivered popular public works for the State of Mexico during his administration. His popularity, combined with his movie-star good looks, made him the early favorite in the election. His main opponents were leftist Andres Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the conservative National Action Party. Peña ran on a platform of security and economic growth and overcame his party's past reputation for corruption in winning the election. A record turnout of 63 percent of eligible voters chose Peña (38% of the vote) over López Obrador (32%) and Vázquez (25%). Opposing parties claimed several campaign violations by the PRI, including vote-buying and receiving extra media exposure, but the results stood. Peña took office on Dec. 1, 2012, replacing outgoing President Felipe Calderón.

Public Perception

Although he was elected easily and most polls suggested a decent approval rating, some disliked Peña Nieto's public persona. One of his worst public gaffes came at a book fair, where he claimed to be a big fan of the popular novel "The Eagle's Throne." When pressed, he could not name the author. This was a serious blunder because the book was written by the prestigious Carlos Fuentes, one of Mexico's most celebrated novelists. Others found Peña Nieto to be robotic and far too slick. He has often been compared, in a negative manner, to American politician John Edwards. The notion (correct or not) that he was a "stuffed shirt" also raised concerns due to the PRI party's notoriously corrupt past.

By August 2016, Peña Nieto had the lowest approval rating of any Mexican president since polling began in 1995. The number dipped even further to a mere 12% when gas prices rose in January 2017.​

Challenges for Peña Nieto's Administration

President Peña took control of Mexico during a troubled time. One big challenge was fighting the drug lords that control much of Mexico. Powerful cartels with private armies of professional soldiers make billions of dollars trafficking drugs every year. They are ruthless and do not hesitate to murder policemen, judges, journalists, politicians, or anyone else who challenges them. Felipe Calderón, Peña Nieto’s predecessor as president, declared an all-out war on the cartels, kicking over a hornet’s nest of death and mayhem.

Mexico’s economy, an important factor for Mexican voters, took a huge hit during the international crisis of 2009. Peña Nieto was friendly with the United States and stated that he wanted to maintain and strengthen economic ties with his neighbor to the north.

Peña Nieto has had a mixed record. During his tenure, police captured the nation's most notorious drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, but Guzman escaped from prison not long afterward. This was a huge embarrassment for the president. Even worse was the disappearance of 43 college students near the town of Iguala in September 2014: they are presumed dead at the hands of the cartels.

Further challenges developed during the campaign and election of President Donald Trump in the United States. With proclaimed policies of a border wall paid for by Mexico, U.S.-Mexico relations took a turn for the worse.

The End of Peña Nieto's Presidency

Toward the end of 2018, additional scandals erupted for the Peña Nieto presidency. Construction of a luxury home for the president and his wife by a company that was then awarded a large government contract led to accusations of conflict of interest. The president was never found guilty of wrongdoing, but he nevertheless found himself apologizing for the outcome. Peña Nieto and his administration were also accused of spying on journalists and political activists. At the same time, an increase in drug trafficking and violence seemed to be linked to the outcome of the 2018 elections.

Just before leaving the presidency, Peña Nieto was involved with negotiations with the United States and Canada to restructure the NAFTA trade agreement. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was signed on Peña Nieto's last day in office at the G20 Summit in Argentina.


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Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Enrique Pena Nieto, Former President of Mexico." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, Minster, Christopher. (2021, September 9). Biography of Enrique Pena Nieto, Former President of Mexico. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Biography of Enrique Pena Nieto, Former President of Mexico." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).