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Column 120312 Wall

Monday, December 3, 2012

President Enrique Peña Nieto and Inauguration Day in Mexico

By Allan Wall

On December 1st, 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto became the President of Mexico, replacing Felipe Calderon, who had been president since 2006. The President of Mexico has a six-year term, and cannot be reelected.

Peña Nieto won the 2012 Mexican election held on July 1st.  Mexico has a five-month long transitional period between election and inauguration, and on December 1st that period was finally over.

The new Mexican Congress, on the other hand, took power on September 1st.

A little history is in order.  Peña Nieto belongs to the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000.  In the historic 2000 election, the PRI candidate lost to Vicente Fox of the PAN (Partido Acción Nacional).  Six years later Fox was succeeded by Felipe Calderon, also of the PAN.

In 2012, however, PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto won the election.  Therefore, after twelve years the PRI returns to the presidency.

Outgoing President Felipe Calderon worked closely with the Peña Nieto team in the presidential transition.  In fact, Calderon and Peña Nieto worked together seven times during the past five months in Los Pinos, the Mexican presidential residence.

On December 1st, the big day arrived in the country's capital, Mexico City.  It was a long day, starting at midnight.

Yes, at midnight.

The day began at Mexico's Palacio Nacional, where Felipe Calderon ceremoniously transferred the presidential authority, symbolized by a special Mexican flag, to Enrique Peña Nieto.  After that, Peña Nieto received the oaths of office of his "security cabinet," consisting of the new Interior Secretary (Miguel Angel Osorio Chong), National Defense Secretary (General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda), Secretary of the Navy (Admiral Vidal Francisco Soberon Sanz), and Sub-secretary of Public Security and Institutional Planning (Manuel Mondragon y Kalb)*.

At 9:25 a.m., a special session of the Mexican Congress began at the Palacio Legislativo de San Lázaro, the regular meeting place of the Mexican Cámara de Diputados, equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Before the inauguration, a representative of each of the seven Mexican political parties was allowed to speak for ten minutes apiece.  At 10:25, a congressional representative of the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática) tossed an empty water bottle at Congressman Arturo Escobar, who was speaking for the Green Party.

At 11:10, Peña Nieto arrived, followed four minutes later by Felipe Calderon.  At 11:16 Enrique Peña Nieto took the presidential oath of office, and at 11:17 Felipe Calderon doffed the presidential sash, which was then donned by Enrique Peña Nieto.

 (The use of a presidential sash is common in Latin American countries, and is thought to have originated with the colonial governors of the old Spanish Empire days.)

After this ceremony, Enrique Peña Nieto returned to the Palacio Nacional where he received the oath of his cabinet, and then delivered his principal inauguration speech.

After the speech, Peña Nieto went to the ceremony at Campo Marte, an equestrian field also utilized for Mexican military ceremonies.  There the new president was saluted with artillery.  Also, General Cienfuegos, the new Defense Secretary, and Admiral Soberon, the new Navy Secretary, spoke briefly, as did Peña Nieto, who is now commander-in-chief of the Mexican military.

From there it was off to the picturesque and historic Chapultepec Castle, where President Peña Nieto hosted a dinner for foreign dignitaries who had attended the inauguration.  Guests included U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, and Felipe, Crown Prince of Spain.

All in all, it was a big day.  Of course everybody was not pleased, as there were demonstrations going on in Mexico City, outside the Palacio Legislativo de San Lázaro and elsewhere, some of which were violent.

Protesters hurled rocks and fireworks, there was even a fragmentation grenade discovered.  Riot police had come prepared with long shields and tear gas.  Over 100 were detained and at least 76 were injured, including one student protestor who lost his right eye.

Vandalism was rampant, with demonstrators attacking businesses and burning furniture in the streets.  Even the recently cleaned-up Hemiciclo a Juárez monument in the Alameda Park (just re-inaugurated five days previously) had graffiti on it.

All in all it was a memorable day.  After all, Mexican presidential inauguration day only comes once every six years.

Now Mexico has a new president, who has his work cut out for him.  Being President of Mexico is not an easy job. 

* Once approved, pending reforms will eliminate the PAN-created Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) and place its responsibilities (back) under the Secretariat of the Interior (Gobernación).  With this, and other imminent institutional changes, pundits are referring to the expected future Interior Ministry as a "super-secretariat."
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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info/.

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