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article imageMexico's unpopular president defends record in parting shot

By AFP     Sep 3, 2018 in Politics

Mexico's deeply unpopular President Enrique Pena Nieto defended his record in his final state of the nation address Monday, touting his reforms as "transcendental" even as he acknowledged his tainted legacy.

Pena Nieto seduced voters six years ago with his movie-star looks and promises of sweeping reform, but leaves office as the most unpopular president in Mexican history, according to some polls.

He will be replaced on December 1 by anti-establishment leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who won a landslide election victory in July by pillorying the crime and corruption he blamed on Pena Nieto and Mexico's ruling "mafia of power."

In his last annual progress report, Pena Nieto touted his government's "daring agenda" of reforms, which privatized the energy sector and touched virtually every aspect of Mexicans' lives, from education to telecommunications, labor and more.

"These structural reforms are, without a doubt, this administration's most transcendental achievement and our most important contribution to the country's development," he said in a nationally televised address.

But he acknowledged "shortfalls and challenges," especially his government's failure to curb violent crime that left a record 28,702 murders last year.

"I am aware that we did not achieve our goal of bringing peace to the country. Doing so will require a sustained, long-term effort," he said.

Since Mexico deployed the army to fight powerful drug cartels in 2006, the country has been swept by a wave of violence that has left more than 200,000 murders.

Lopez Obrador has proposed overhauling the national anti-crime strategy, legalizing drugs and granting an amnesty for some drug crimes.

However, he recently acknowledged there was little choice but to leave the army on the streets in the medium term, given the corruption and under-capacity that dog the country's police forces.

Pena Nieto, a former governor from the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), began his term in 2012 with a flurry of successes, passing landmark reforms in rapid succession.

But his administration soon became mired in scandals, including the jailing of a string of PRI governors for corruption, the dodgy purchase of a mansion by Pena Nieto's own wife and the murky disappearance of 43 students in 2014.

Pena Nieto's approval rating currently stands at 18 percent, according to polling firm Mitofsky.

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