Mexico’s embattled President Enrique Peña Nieto is finally apologizing for one of the biggest scandals to rock his administration.
No, not that scandal, the other one. No, not that one either. I'm talking about the first lady's mega-mansion. Yeah, that one.
During a ceremony on Monday where the president signed a new package of laws that will shape the country’s National Anti-Corruption System, Peña Nieto said he understood the country's outrage over a $7 million mansion that his wife purchased from a prominent government contractor. The scandal was broke by a Mexican journalistic investigation in 2014, shortly after a wave of protests erupted over the disappearance of 43 students.
“If we want to regain citizens’ trust, we all have to be self-critical. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror, starting with the president of Mexico,” Peña Nieto said in his mea culpa. “In November of 2014, the information published about the so-called ‘White House’ caused great indignation. This issue reassured me that government officials, which have a responsibility to act lawfully and with complete integrity, are also responsible for the perceptions we generate with what we do. And in this, I recognize that I made a mistake.”
Peña Nieto insisted, however, that his 'mistake' did not amount to unlawful wrongdoing.
“Although I acted in accordance to law," he said, "this mistake affected my family, harmed the presidency, and damaged confidence in the government."
The president added, "I experienced in my own flesh the irritation of Mexicans. I understand it completely. That’s why, with all humility, I want to apologize to you. I want to reaffirm my sincere and profound apologies for the aggravation and the indignation I caused you. Everyday, starting from this, I'm more convinced and determined to fight corruption.”
It’s not the first time Peña Nieto has recognized his administration’s many mistakes in handling conflicts of interest, but the housing scandal apology comes as he slumps in the polls and on the heels of his party's resounding defeat in the latest state elections where seven governorships were lost to the opposition.
The president might be trying to make ammends in time for Mexico's 2018 presidential race.
Peña Nieto and his wife were ultimately cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the housing scandal, but the investigation was headed by a prosecutor appointed directly by the president, causing even more skepticism. The prosecutor will be stepping down in the coming weeks and will be replaced by a new anti-corruption czar appointed by the president and ratified by the Senate as part of the newly created National Anti-Corruption System.
First Lady Angelica Rivera, meanwhile has reportedly canceled the acquisition contract with the government contractor. So she's no longer the owner and the controversial house will return to the construction consortium known as Grupo Higa (whose owner was also involved in the Panama Papers scandal).
The so-called ‘White House’ was recently tagged on Google Maps as Mexico’s Museum of Corruption, and has become an unofficial monument to impunity in Mexico.