As several hundred protesters threw fire bombs at police and smashed plate glass windows, Peña Nieto marked the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, with a 13-point plan heavy on old-party populist handouts but with reforms designed to boost the economy and modernize the education and justice systems.
Inaugural events were marred all day by protesters opposed to the return of the PRI after a 12-year hiatus.
Inside and outside the congressional chambers where he took the oath of office, his opponents called his inauguration an “imposition” of a party that ruled for 71 years using a mix of handouts, graft and rigged elections.
At least 76 people were treated for injuries, including 29 who hospitalized, as the result of clashes between protesters and tear-gas firing police, the Red Cross said. City officials said 103 people were detained, including 11 minors.
Vandals smashed windows of stores, banks and a hotel and made bonfires of furniture dragged into the streets. One downtown bank office where all the windows were broken had the words “Welcome Peña” painted across the facade in green.
Peña Nieto countered with a speech full of specifics, from creating an integrated crime prevention program to end the patronage and the buying of teacher positions that rule the public education system.
He said he will put security at the center of all policies for Mexicans and their families and will work to ensure that roads and cities are again “peaceful areas where Mexicans can travel safely without fear of loss of their liberty or life.”
Mexico has suffered a spike in violence since outgoing President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against organized crime upon taking office six years ago. Some 60,000 people have been killed by drug violence since then, according to some estimates.
While officials first said most of the victims were involved in organized crime, the killings and kidnapping spread to innocent civilians as drug gangs came to rule entire towns and even parts of some states.
Many remain to be convinced.
Before he took the oath of office, leftist congressional members inside the chamber gave protest speeches and hung banners, including a giant one reading “Imposition consummated. Mexico mourns.”
Peña Nieto, who assumed office at a midnight ceremony at the National Palace, campaigned as the new face of the PRI, repentant and reconstructed after being voted out of the presidency in 2000.
Before his public swearing-in at mid-day, hundreds of opponents banged on tall, steel security barriers around Congress, threw stones, bottle rockets and firecrackers at police and yelled “Mexico without PRI!”
Police responded by spraying tear gas from a truck and used fire extinguishers to put out flames from molotov cocktails. One group of protesters rammed and dented the barrier with a large truck before being driven off by police water cannons.
Despite the protests, the atmosphere inside Congress during the swearing-in ceremony was far less chaotic than six years ago, when a Calderon security unit literally had to muscle him past blockades and protesters to get him into the building so he could take the oath of office after a razor-thin, disputed victory over a leftist candidate.