April 6, 2015 — Mexico’s government has undergone sweeping structural reforms under its new administration, a specialist in international law recently told a group of University of Houston Law Center students. The key challenge, Alonso Gonzalez-Villalobos said, will be implementing those reforms so they truly take hold.
Gonzalez-Villalobos, an independent legal consultant and Mexico’s director for the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative, spoke to members of UHLC’s International Law Society and Hispanic Law Students Association on March 25. The event was sponsored by UHLC’s Center for U.S. and Mexican Law.
Gonzalez-Villalobos outlined 11 fundamental constitutional reforms enacted by Mexico’s congress since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012. Many of those reforms have been under discussion for decades, he said.
“The big leap forward brought by Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration was the ability to bring all the major political forces together to actually come to terms to move forward with transformation,” Gonzalez-Villalobos said.
“The democratic debate has finally found an atmosphere to openly discuss the vast majority of the most pressing problems being faced by the country,” he said. “The big challenge will be the implementation of those reforms.”
The major goals of the reforms are to revitalize the economic development of Mexico so that it can join the ranks of the world’s largest economies in terms of growth and make the political sphere more open and transparent, Gonzalez-Villalobos said.
“Mexico needs to seriously underpin its growth level if it wants to play in the big leagues,” he said.
One of the most important reforms involves restructuring the country’s oil and gas sector to open it up for exploration with direct foreign investment, forcing the national hydrocarbons company, known as PEMEX, to compete with private capital.
Other issues cited by Gonzalez-Villalobos include reform of the country’s telecommunications and financial services sectors; making industry more competitive and helping workers gain more economically productive skills; making the collection of taxes more effective and comprehensive to include more of the country’s “informal” economy; and reforming the education sector and reducing what he called the unhealthy power of the national teachers union.
Political and electoral reforms are also paramount, Gonzalez-Villalobos said.
“The idea is to empower democracy beyond the mere fact that (since 2000) we have free elections on to transforming every political institution,” he said. That will be accomplished through greater transparency and accountability, independent political candidacies, and other reforms.
“The huge challenge for the country, after the structural reforms are done, is to empower civil society and raise consciousness,” he said, especially of the importance for people in all levels and sectors of Mexican society to challenge corrupt practices.
“A new set of citizens is emerging, especially from academia and the government, that is saying enough with the old corrupt practices,” he said. “The big challenge is to empower a system in which everyone is empowered to denounce corruption, but that also becomes a civic virtue.”