“These days, if you add together all the energy reserves of Canada, the United States and Mexico, taking into account new methods of extraction, it is the most important energy region in the world,” said Emilio Lozoya Austin, 35, a Harvard-trained development expert who is touted as the likely next foreign secretary.
Even as Mexico looks northward, it also will look west to the Pacific Rim nations and south to the powerhouses in South America, he said.
“A stronger Latin America needs for Mexico and Brazil to be more united,” Lozoya said.
On the domestic front, Pena Nieto has laid out a series of ambitious pledges. Among them: raise Mexico’s annual economic growth rate to 6 percent a year, cut a soaring homicide rate in half, and build a 40,000-member paramilitary force (or gendarmerie) from scratch to fight organized crime.
Sent reeling by a global economic crisis that began in 2008, and a swine flu pandemic a year later, Mexico has had lackluster growth averaging 1.9 percent a year under President Felipe Calderon. But the economy is picking up steam and may tally growth above 3.5 percent this year.
A new Congress, which took office in September, already has moved on measures pushed by the Pena Nieto camp, enacting a labor reform that makes it easier to hire and fire workers, and limits cost of severance. Calderon signed the reform into law Thursday morning.
Legislators are also debating a Pena Nieto-backed proposal to shift a Cabinet-level ministry in charge of a 35,000-member federal police force under the Interior Ministry, centralizing efforts to combat crime. Separately, they are mulling creation of an autonomous National Anti-corruption Commission empowered to investigate all levels of government.
The unusual cooperation burst into headlines this week with news that the PRI, the National Action Party (known as PAN) and the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) were hashing out a so-called Pact for Mexico to facilitate reforms, cognizant that Mexicans have grown weary of do-nothing legislatures.
The pact was to be signed Thursday, but sectors of the PRD backed out, saying they needed more time. Even if only the PAN and PRI join loosely together, they can rally enough votes to enact reforms. The incoming government is pleased.
The labor reform and other legislative cooperation “gives us a lot of confidence that agreements can be reached on matters very important to the Pena administration in terms of energy and fiscal policy,” Lozoya said. “These will be a priority in the first quarter of next year.”
Whether criminal narcotics gangs will allow Pena Nieto to focus on such issues is yet to be seen. Experts say he would certainly reframe security issues, dropping language about a “war” while working on everyday law-and-order issues.
“What can we do about the war on drugs? Put an end to it,” said Castaneda, indicating that the nation should try to control delinquency at manageable levels but give lower priority to crime gangs than Calderon’s high-decibel campaign.