* Pena Nieto aims to boost growth with energy, tax reforms
* Doubts linger about his centrist party
* PRI inherits an economy that has improved lately
By Dave Graham and Michael O'Boyle
MEXICO CITY, Dec 1 Enrique Pena Nieto took over
as Mexico's president on Saturday, promising to end years of
violence and sluggish economic growth, and giving the party that
shaped modern Mexico a shot at redemption after 12 years out of
The 46-year-old Pena Nieto said the people had been let down
since his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI,
fell from power in 2000, and pledged a raft of changes to boost
growth, create jobs and fight poverty.
"The state has lost ground in important areas. Lawlessness
and violence have robbed various parts of the country of peace
and freedom," Pena Nieto said in his inaugural speech at a
ceremonial palace in the old center of Mexico City. "My
government's first aim will be to bring peace to Mexico."
Pena Nieto takes command of a country that was convulsed by
the deaths of more than 60,000 people in violence between drug
gangs and security forces during the six-year term of his
conservative predecessor, Felipe Calderon.
Pena Nieto says he is committed to fighting organized crime,
but has also stressed his main goal is to reduce the violence.
He paid tribute to Mexico's armed forces early in his speech
and then saluted them on the capital's Field of Mars parade
The torrent of gangland killings in Mexico has worried
investors and tourists alike, and voters in the holiday resort
of Cancun said they expected Pena Nieto to calm things down.
"I hope security improves, that there are no more
decapitated bodies, that the drug gangs don't continue shooting
in the streets," said Carlos Madrid, a tourism worker in the
eastern city. "It's no good for families, no good for business,
no good for the population, it's no good for anyone."
Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, took power in 2000
pledging to reinvigorate Mexico, but it never had a majority in
Congress and struggled to push through legislation it wanted to
create jobs in Latin America's second-biggest economy.
Memories of the PRI's unbroken 71-year rule are still vivid
in Mexico, and the party was a byword for corruption, cronyism
and vote-rigging by the time it left office.
"It's like the Communist Party of the Soviet Union making a
comeback," said Lorenzo Meyer, a left-leaning political
scientist and historian at the National Autonomous University of
Mexico. "The PRI should be dead. Its time had passed."
Demonstrators sought to take the shine off Pena Nieto's
swearing-in ceremony, and several thousand protesters, mainly
from leftist groups that supported Pena Nieto's main rival and
oppose his reform plans, massed earlier outside Congress.
Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters, who rattled
metal barriers in a bid to disrupt the upcoming ceremony.
Elsewhere, small groups of protesters threw Molotov cocktails.
"They have imposed an illegitimate president. There's lots
of us here, this struggle is just beginning," said a 16-year-old
student who identified herself as Frida, her eyes stinging from
the gas and wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of a
Married to a popular actress, Pena Nieto, the telegenic
former state of Mexico governor, won the July 1 election with
about 38 percent of the vote, more than 6 points ahead of
leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who refused to accept the
Lopez Obrador also rejected the outcome of his narrow
election loss in 2006 to Calderon, and the protests on Saturday
were slight by comparison with the demonstrations then.
Having helped shepherd a labor reform through Congress since
his election victory, Pena Nieto now wants to pass legislation
to strengthen Mexico's tax base and allow more private
investment in lumbering state oil giant Pemex.
"Mexico has not achieved the advances the people demand and
deserve," Pena Nieto said. "We are a country growing at two
speeds. There's a Mexico of progress and development. But
there's another one too that's been left behind in poverty."
If he is successful, the reforms could help spur stronger
growth and create jobs, blunting the allure of organized crime.
Annual economic growth averaged less than 2 percent under
the PAN over the past 12 years, far behind many other Latin
American countries. That record and the drug war violence opened
the door for a PRI comeback under Pena Nieto.
Still, inflation has been kept in check, debt levels are low
and growth picked up toward the end of Calderon's term, with the
economy outperforming Brazil's in the past two years.
Pena Nieto's inner circle features several ambitious young
economists and financial experts eager to prove the PRI can do a
better job of managing the economy.
For much of the PRI's rule, Mexico enjoyed stronger growth
than the PAN mustered, but memories linger of default on the
country's debts in 1982 and a financial crash in 1994 and 1995.
"It's very hard to believe in the PRI. They bankrupted
Mexico," said construction worker Jose Luis Mendoza.
Supporting a family of four on 1,300 pesos ($100) a week,
Mendoza, 29, said he was worse off now than when Calderon took
office, and doubted his life would improve under the PRI. "The
cost of everything has gone up - but my wage hasn't," he said.
Pena Nieto has pledged to put more money in Mexicans'
pockets and shake up competition in a country where large swaths
of the economy are concentrated in the hands of a few, like
telecom billionaire Carlos Slim, the world's richest man.
But Pena Nieto has been vague so far about how he plans to
create a more level playing field, and pollster Jorge Buendia
said it would be foolish to expect radical change.
"Pena Nieto's not a reformist guy. He never has been,"
Buendia said. "He's an establishment guy and I don't think he's
going to rock the establishment that much."