Time Magazine’s latest cover — featuring a photo of a stern-looking Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto under the headline “Saving Mexico: How Enrique Peña Nieto’s Sweeping Reforms Have Changed The Narrative Of His Narco-Stained Nation" — has created major buzz online south of the border with memes mocking the leader springing up on Twitter featuring images of Peña Nieto adorned with anything from a Darth Vader head to the body of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The Time piece, which delves into a number of sweeping changes implemented by the Peña Nieto administration in the last year, has drawn harsh criticism from some of the Mexican public angry with the government’s energy reforms that has taken some on the control away from the state-owned Pemex oil company and allowed for foreign investment.
In one of the memes, the headline of “Saving Mexico” has been changed to “Selling Mexico” and in another one has the logo of the Shell Oil Co. put over Peña Nieto’s face.
The Mexican president signed into law in December the sweeping reform allowing private companies to drill for oil and gas, ending a seven-decade-long monopoly held by Pemex. The laws will allow private contracts for profit- and production-sharing with companies like Exxon Mobil and BP to explore and drill for oil and gas that Mexico hasn't been able to tap.
Mexico's Energy Department will also be able to auction oil and gas licenses, mostly for deep-water projects, and then collect taxes and royalties from companies for the amount extracted.
While Peña Nieto said the reform is key to rejuvenating a sclerotic energy industry and industry analysts and oil companies in the U.S. have said both countries will benefit from the changes, some experts and skeptics are still wary about whether Mexico has the ability to regulate these private contracts in a fair manner.
Many of the social media memes poke fun at Peña Nieto’s handling of Mexico’s eight-year old battle with the country’s drug cartels. A photo of an elderly woman holding an automatic rifle, a edited headline saying “Slaying Mexico” and a Photo shopped cover replacing Peña Nieto’s head with a zombies and holding a Grim Reaper’s sickle all mock how the new president has dealt with the conflict that has claimed an estimated 70,000 people.
While much of the blame for the violence has been dumped on former President Felipe Calderón — who began the conflict shortly after taking office in 2006 — many analysts contend that Peña Nieto’s promises of re-shifting the drug war approach away from arresting major cartel figures and more toward reducing violence has so far fallen short.
In his first 100 days in office, 2,882 people were killed — including 100 soldiers and police officers — compared with 2,338 people in the last hundred days of Calderón’s administration.
Peña Nieto has also had to deal with the rise of a strong vigilante movement in the state of Michoacán, where groups have sprung up to combat the Knights Templar drug cartel in an area that was once rarely patrolled by police and military forces.
Despite the criticism from the social media world, Peña Nieto appears in the Time article confident that his nation is on the right path.
"I believe the conditions are very favorable for Mexico to grow," Peña Nieto told the magazine in an interview at the Los Pinos compound. "I'm very optimistic."