How Much Has the Mansion Scandal Harmed Peña Nieto?

Editor’s note:
Earlier this month, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government became
embroiled in scandal amid reports that the registered owner of First
Lady Angélica Rivera’s opulent home is a company that is part of the
Grupo Higa business group, which has won several government contracts
dating back to Peña Nieto’s time as governor of Mexico state. I

n the Featured Q&A of the Inter-American Dialogue’s daily Latin America Advisor, Andrés Rozental explains to what extent Peña Nieto’s government has been harmed by the scandal and what he must do to regain lost credibility.

Andrés Rozental

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Latin America Initiative

Recent developments on these issues in Mexico have resulted in a huge setback for the country’s image and for the Peña Nieto government’s credibility. After a largely positive and well received set of major reforms to the economy and other parts of Mexico’s social and political structures, including transcendental changes to the energy, telecom and financial sectors, the tragic and brutal events in the state of Guerrero, incidents of violence and anarchy among protesting groups, the abrupt cancellation of a high-speed rail project and the headlines involving the president and his wife in a scandal about their private home in Mexico City, have all combined to create a perfect storm of public anger and global coverage that at least in the short term negates much of the favorable publicity that Mexico and Mr. Peña Nieto had garnered during the first two years of his administration.

Today, amid calls for changes to his cabinet and even his resignation, Mexico’s president is faced with a serious challenge to his image and the manner in which the country’s domestic policy is being conducted. Growing evidence of a breakdown in law and order in various parts of the country, impunity for political and economic elites and a surge in the worst forms of violence and criminal activity have led to an outpouring of criticism and calls for redefining Mexico’s current trajectory. For Mr. Peña Nieto to regain credibility in Mexico and abroad, he needs to do something he hasn’t wanted to do so far: listen to what people are saying at home and abroad outside of his inner circle of advisors and publicly be seen exercising leadership and governance. So far, the policy of isolating himself from day-today problems and limiting himself to daily appearances at well-controlled, insignificant events inaugurating public works or addressing groups of political supporters has proven to be the wrong way to show that the reins of government are firmly in the president’s hands.

This piece, along with other expert responses, was initially published in the Inter-American Dialogue’s daily
Latin America Advisor