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Obama Can Learn From Mexico's Reformer President

Image: Obama Can Learn From Mexico's Reformer President President Barack Obama and Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto arrive for their news conference at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City on May 2.

Friday, 03 May 2013 10:21 AM

By John Gizzi

With President Barack Obama holding his first official summit on Friday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, their agenda is set to include critical topics ranging from immigration and border security to the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement signed by the neighboring nations.

"We’ve spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico, that we forget this is a massive trading partner," the president said in his final reply to a question at Tuesday’s White House news conference.

All of this is important. But as the two presidents discuss such key issues, Obama might also pose a few political questions to his counterpart in Mexico City.

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Why, Obama might ask Peña Nieto, does he continually reach out to opposition parties, notably the conservative National Action Party (PAN) that held the presidency for a dozen years before Peña Nieto’s left-wing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won in 2012?

And how, the American president could ask, does Peña Nieto deal with the even further left-of-center "old guard" of his party when he presents an agenda that is based on the free market?

Under Peña Nieto’s leadership, the PRI reversed a long-standing position and enacted labor reform legislation that gave power of the hiring and firing of teachers to the government.

Needless to say, taking away a power that had long been the unchallenged domain of the teachers' unions enraged the labor bosses, who are as much a power in the PRI as the National Education Association is in America's Democratic Party.

Peña Nieto didn’t flinch. Earlier this year, as the Economist reported, "The new president sent a powerful signal to dissenters when the union’s leader Elba Esther Gordillo, once a leader of the PRI, was arrested on charges of embezzling more than $150 million of union funds (an allegation she denies)."

Mexico’s Congress enacted a complete overhaul this week of the country’s telecommunications sector. The measure encourages foreign businesses to invest in Mexico, forces dominant companies to divest enough to control less than 50 percent of the market, and opens the door to two new free-to-air channels.

"The Peña Nieto administration has promised to open up the energy sector and some initial steps have been taken by regulators and the Supreme Court to break up these concentrations of economic power," wrote Shannon O’Neil, of the Council on Foreign Relations, in Foreign Affairs. "Much more needs to happen, however, to level the economic playing field."

Following state elections this July, Peña Nieto is expected to draw a bead on his country's Pemex oil monopoly and may take action that leads to some form of competition in the energy realm.

In whatever action he takes, Peña Nieto is sure to work with both major opposition parties.

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Elected with only 38.2 percent of the vote and with his party holding a plurality rather than a majority in the Mexican Congress, Peña Nieto signed a "Pact with Mexico" with the two major opposition leaders in which they agreed to put the interests of the public ahead of their country's powerful special interests.

Perhaps the American president who complained at his news conference Tuesday of being frustrated by "Republican governors" and "Republicans who control the House" could learn a thing or two from the Mexican president.

John Gizzi is a special columnist for Newsmax.com.

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