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US pivot to Mexico?

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Mexico even seems poised under Peña Nieto’s coming six-year term to lessen the self-defeating nationalism that has prevented reform of its government-run oil monopoly. Opening Pemex to private, even foreign, investment would mark a shift from the historical Mexican resentments that have also dogged its politics. And it would help turn North America into the world’s energy giant.

One still-uncertain measure of Mexico’s changes will be in the political behavior of Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party. Has the PRI, which ruled from 1929 to 2000, shed its corrupt, power-hungry ways since it lost power – and democracy bloomed?

The PRI’s comeback comes as younger Mexicans and a rising middle class are less tolerant of corruption. Mexicans have also tired of the strategy of outgoing President Felipe Calderón, who relied heavily on the Army in curbing the power of the drug cartels. While homicides are down this year, the killings since 2006 have pushed Mexico to rethink this “war on drugs.”

Peña Nieto plans to further beef up the federal police and improve the judiciary. He needs more US assistance for that. The PRI also holds more power in the legislature than his predecessor’s party, PAN, which allows it to better pass key reforms.

America’s interest in Mexico should also be drawn to the fact that the Mexican economy has been growing faster than that of the US. And far fewer Mexicans are fleeing to the US for jobs.

All this argues for stronger American engagement with a nation of 113 million people on its border that is becoming a global economic player. Obama can help lead that necessary pivot.

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