Mexico City | Peña Nieto and the Proles

Why a raffish young politician might just ride his gaffes to the presidential chair

01 March 2012
Enrique Peña Nieto, left, at the Guadalajara Book Fair, soon after he was stumped by a question pointing to his reading habits.
BRUNO GONZALEZ / AP PHOTO
Enrique Peña Nieto, left, at the Guadalajara Book Fair, soon after he was stumped by a question pointing to his reading habits.
BRUNO GONZALEZ / AP PHOTO

HE IS 45 YEARS OLD but in many photos appears to be about 12: a boy dressed for a family wedding, in a black suit and red tie. With his pale skin, dark and moony eyes, and hair gelled into a pompadour, he looks very much like the hero of a locally produced soap opera. His name is Enrique Peña Nieto, and if the polls are any indication, in July he will be elected president of Mexico.

Peña Nieto is a member of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (a legendary oxymoron) known by its Spanish-language initials (PRI), which ruled Mexico between 1929 and 2000, the longest-running political show in modern history. Between 2005 and 2011, he was the governor of the State of Mexico, his term marked by infrastructure projects that created work, however temporarily, for thousands. Thousands of others less fortunate—many in the shantytowns that ring Mexico City—lived in poverty compared by the United Nations to Sub-Saharan Africa’s. Nearly all the surveys place Peña Nieto at double-digit percentage points ahead of his rivals in the rightwing National Action Party (PAN), which has presided over Mexico (most would say disastrously) for the past 12 years, and the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

He is not infallible. Last December, when Peña Nieto was presenting a book he putatively wrote, México: La Gran Esperanza (‘Mexico: The Great Hope’), at the Guadalajara International Book Fair—the most important in the Spanish-speaking world—a journalist asked him to name three books that changed his life. His stammering response, posted on YouTube, lasted an excruciating four minutes. First he mumbled about novels he’d liked but whose titles he couldn’t remember. Then it occurred to him that, although he had not read the entire Bible, some passages of it were inspirational to him during adolescence. He mentioned how much he liked historian Enrique Krauze’s La Silla del Águila (‘The Eagle’s Throne’)—a novel written, in fact, by Carlos Fuentes.

David Lida David Lida is the author of several books about Mexico, including First Stop in the New World and Las llaves de la ciudad: un mosaico de México. He also works for defense lawyers in the US who defend Mexicans facing the death penalty.

Keywords: politician poverty Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto presidential candidate PRI Guadalajara International Book Fair literacy
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