MEXICO CITY-As he prepares to take over a country rife with violence and plagued by drug wars, Mexico's president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto is promising to focus first and foremost on making the streets of his nation safer.
Pena Nieto claimed victory after a recount scare on Wednesday. Over half of all ballot boxes were reopened and recounted amid accusations of vote buying. Following the official recount, Pena Nieto was again declared the next Mexican president.
Two days after his victory in Sunday's election, Pena Nieto told ABC News' Cecilia Vega in an interview that Mexico's war on violence can be won, but policy changes must be made.
"We have to emphasize the reduction of violence that our country lives in right now. The policy of fighting insecurity has to have social support and to achieve that goal it's necessary today to give Mexicans conditions of greater calm and security," Pena Nieto said in an interview conducted in Spanish and translated into English.
More than 50,000 people have been killed as a result of Mexico's drug wars since outgoing president Felipe Calderon took power in 2006, a staggering string of violence that has raised concerns in the United States as well. Only days before last weekend's election, a car bomb in Nuevo Laredo, only miles from the border, injured seven people.
"Look, to obtain security that Mexican society demands goes hand in hand with obtaining results in other fields to precisely have a safe border," Pena Nieto said. "I would tell them to those who live in the United States in worry and fear that this is the biggest challenge: to recover peace and tranquility for Mexicans and for those who visit us from the United States, to obtain this means to adjust the public safety strategy, secondly, obtain an environment of economic growth to generate jobs and opportunities of self-development. This will allow, or rather avoid, that many people, especially young people, get co-opted by organized crime."
Pena Nieto also expressed that while US-Mexican relations will certainly be affected by who wins November's elections in the U.S., he is impartial about the outcome. "I'm completely respectful of the decision that Americans will have over their president," Pena Nieto said. "I will be respectful towards whoever results elected president of the United States. My interest will be to work a close relationship of increased collaboration, of respect to our sovereignty and above all to set shared goals and above all to be efficient in achieving these goals."
In terms of Mexican immigration to the United States, Pena Nieto is eager to make remaining in Mexico an attractive option for his people. "For me, one of my major priorities will be to drive structural reforms that will allow Mexico to grow and generate jobs and opportunities for Mexicans," he said. "In this way, migrating will be an option or a decision and not a necessity for many Mexicans."
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However, in the case of immigrants already in the US, Pena Nieto is in favor of amnesty: "If they've decided to remain in that country they should have the opportunity of fair treatment and their work be recognized."
In his campaign for the presidency, Pena Nieto, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), pledged to focus less on apprehending narco-traffickers and more on reducing violence on the streets. However, Pena Nieto emphasized to Vega that certain policies that worked under Calderon will still be continued even after he leaves office.
"Those who suppose we have to reverse or cancel the policy of President Calderon are wrong. i've publicly recognized the progress and achievements he's had in certain areas within the insecurity fight," Pena Nieto said. "We'd have to strengthen the policy of capacity of civil force of Mexican State to combat organized crime, territorial presence. But also, we have to now in the adjustment of the strategy, increased emphasis in reducing violence. This is what worries Mexicans the most - the fear planted in many Mexicans due to this climate of insecurity. So we'll have to say, what has worked in this government, will continue. We'll strengthen actions started by the current government, but we have to adjust the necessary to combat impunity, re-establish the rule of law and regain the tranquility that Mexicans are asking for."
Pena Nieto will take office Dec. 1 after last weekend's election saw him win 38 percent of the vote. It signals a return to power for the PRI, a party that ruled for over seven decades before finally being ousted in 2000. Now Pena Nieto, 45, who is married to a soap opera star, will get to work on his ambitious plans to restore safety to a nation rocked by years of bloodshed.
"The policy of fighting insecurity has to have social support and to achieve that goal it's necessary today to give Mexicans conditions of greater calm and security," he said. "That's why, the policy of public safety, in order to have social support, has to translate into results and peace of mind that Mexicans expect of the next government."