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Monday, February 4, 2013

Mexico’s New Administration: Priorities and Key Issues in U.S.-Mexican Relations

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Congress has maintained significant interest in Mexico and played an important role in shaping bilateral relations. Recently, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000 retook the presidency after 12 years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in the July 1, 2012 elections. The party also captured a plurality (but not a majority) in Mexico’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies. PRI President Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico, took office on December 1, 2012, pledging to enact bold structural reforms and broaden relations with the United States beyond security issues. U.S. policymakers are closely following what the return of a PRI government portends for Mexico’s domestic policies and relations with the United States.

Upon his inauguration, President Peña Nieto announced a reformist agenda with specific proposals under five broad pillars: reducing violence; combating poverty; boosting economic growth; reforming education; and fostering social responsibility. He then signed a “Pact for Mexico” agreement with the leaders of the PAN and leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) containing legislative proposals for implementing an agenda that includes energy and fiscal reform. Although the pact may ease opposition in Mexico’s Congress, Peña Nieto could face other constraints such as violence perpetrated by Mexico’s powerful criminal organizations and the performance of the U.S. and global economies. Some analysts maintain that the prospects for reform under this administration are good, while others are more circumspect.

U.S.-Mexican relations grew closer during the Felipe Calderón Administration (2006-2012) as a result of the Mérida Initiative, a bilateral security effort for which Congress has provided $1.9 billion. Some Members of Congress may be concerned about whether bilateral relations, particularly security cooperation, may suffer now that the party controlling the presidency has changed. Although the transition from PAN to PRI rule is unlikely to result in seismic shifts in bilateral relations, a PRI government may emphasize economic issues more than security matters. President Peña Nieto has vowed to continue U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, albeit with a stronger emphasis on reducing violent crime in Mexico than on combating drug trafficking; what that cooperation will look like remains to be seen. He has also expressed support for increased bilateral and trilateral (with Canada) economic and energy cooperation.

This report, which will be updated, provides an overview of the leadership, priorities, and prospects for Mexico’s new administration. It then briefly analyzes how those priorities may affect key bilateral issues of interest to the 113
th Congress and suggests possible questions for oversight related to each issue area. The report concludes with an outlook section containing key questions that may be used to assess the Peña Nieto Administration and its impact on U.S.- Mexican relations.

For more detailed information on Mexico, see: CRS Report R41349, U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond, by Clare Ribando Seelke and Kristin M. Finklea and CRS Report RL32934, U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications, by M. Angeles Villarreal. For background, see: CRS Report RL32724, Mexico: Issues for Congress, by Clare Ribando Seelke.

Date of Report: January 16, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R42917
Price: $29.95

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