Biography of Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexican President Elected in 2012

Enrique Peña Nieto. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Enrique Peña Nieto (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. The president is only allowed to serve a single term.

Personal Life

Peña's father Severiano Peña was Mayor of the town of Acambay in the State of Mexico, and other relatives have gone far in politics as well. He 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 of Mexico State, 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 percent of the vote) over López Obrador (32 percent) and Vázquez (25 percent). 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 December 1, 2012, replacing outgoing President Felipe Calderón.

Public Perception

Although he was elected easily and most polls suggest a decent approval rating, some find Peña Nieto to be difficult to get a read on. 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" but when pressed 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 find Peña Nieto to be robotic and far too slick. He has often been compared to American politician John Edwards (and not in a good way). The notion (correct or not) that he is a stuffed shirt also raises concerns due to the PRI party's notoriously corrupt past.

By August 2016, he had the lowest approval rating of any president since polling began in 1995. They dipped even further to a mere 12 percent 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 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’s predecessor as President, declared all-out war on the cartels, kicking over a hornet’s nest of death and mayhem.

Mexico’s economy took a huge hit during the international crisis of 2009, and although it is recovering, the economy is very important to Mexican voters. President Peña is friendly with the USA and has stated that he wants 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 Donald Trump in the United States. With proclaimed policies of a border wall paid for by Mexico, relations with Mexico's northern neighbor took a turn for the worse.

Sources:

Puente, Teresa. Mexico's Telenovela President: Enrique Peña Nieto's Saga of Scandal, Gaffes, and Connections

Univision Noticias. Biografía de Enrique Peña Nieto

Wilkinson, Tracy and Ken Ellingwood (Los Angeles Times). Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto, man of mystery

Seelke, Clare Ribando. Mexico's 2012 Elections. Congressional Research Service.