MEXICO CITY -- President Enrique Peña Nieto took office yesterday pledging to reduce Mexico's crime, erase the budget deficit and spur competition in communications industries, where the world's richest man has a near monopoly in phone service.
Wearing the green, red and white presidential sash, the 46-year-old Peña Nieto said in his inaugural address that he'll create a national crime prevention program. He called for "austerity" in government spending while saying infrastructure investments should be accelerated.
"It's time for us to break the myths and paradigms and everything else that has limited our development," Peña Nieto said in an address at the National Palace. "It's now up to us to take advantage of this platform to boost growth and achieve the most important economic objective -- improve the economy for Mexican families."
Peña Nieto takes over a $1.2 trillion economy that analysts forecast will grow 3.8 percent this year, more than Brazil yet less than some Latin American countries, including Colombia and Peru. He said his government will bring "21st century" development to Mexico, promising a wider social safety net, more passenger railroads and greater oversight of state government debts.
"The nation hasn't grown sufficiently," Peña Nieto said. "Mexico hasn't achieved the advances that the people demand and deserve."
Before the swearing-in, several hundred protesters fought with police at barricades around Congress, with rioters hurling bottle rockets and officers spraying tear gas to disperse them. Eight people were injured, according to Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. A group of marchers rammed a truck into a police barricade, and separate protests along Mexico City's main business boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma, left dozens of storefronts shattered.
Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000. Opponents, including supporters of election runner-up Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have warned that Peña Nieto's administration may return to the corruption and cronyism that marked the PRI's prior rule.
As part of his economic agenda, Peña Nieto vowed to seek bids for two more over-the-air broadcast networks in a nation dominated by Grupo Televisa SAB and TV Azteca SAB. He also said there should be more competition in the telephone industry, even as billionaire Carlos Slim, the world's richest person who controls 80 percent of Mexico's landlines and 70 percent of its mobile-phone lines through America Movil SAB, attended the speech.
Peña Nieto said all Mexicans deserve access to high-speed Internet and urged steps toward universal social security while saying his government will propose eliminating the budget deficit in 2013.