Pena Nieto in December.
Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto gestures before he signs into law the energy reform at the National Palace in Mexico City December 20, 2013. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said at a forum in Madrid organized by several Spanish corporations and newspaper El País on Monday that although insecurity and violence remain serious problems in Mexico, especially the states of Michoacán, Tamaulipas and Guerrero, his government has made considerable progress on the issue. Between 2012 and 2013, Peña Nieto told the audience, violence and insecurity fell 12 percent, and 25 percent in the first four months of 2014. “They’re encouraging numbers,” he said before cautioning against early celebrations. “The issue hasn’t been resolved.”

Peña Nieto’s comments came during a forum devoted largely to a sweeping series of reforms which he defended on Monday as a way to make Mexico’s economy more transparent and competitive, according to El Pais. “Many of the reforms had been postponed for decades, but we have decided to touch on issues that seemed untouchable until now,” he said. “This is the hallmark of a mature democracy.” But the issue of crime and violence has remained a major question mark for companies thinking about investing in the country. The head of the Mexican employers’ association, Coparmex, told Latino Daily News that about 37 percent of all companies in Mexico see themselves targeted by crime of some form, from robbery to shoplifting, kidnapping or extortion, costing them about $5.8 billion every year.

While business interests, politicians and the press in much of the world have applauded Peña Nieto’s reforms, the Mexican public is largely wary. The most significant of the reforms, one which opens up Mexico’s state-owned oil and energy resources to exploitation by foreign firms, has been unpopular among the majority of the public in some polls. And public perception also differs from the president’s assessment of crime and violence: in a government survey released in late May, 72 percent of Mexicans said they believed that the area they lived in was insecure. Compared to responses in 2013, a growing number of those polls said they had witnessed gang activity (33.5 percent), drug dealing (40.2 percent) and seen or heard gunshots (25.8 percent). Half of the public said it did not leave the house after 8 in the evening, and just under half (47 percent) said they did not let their children play outdoors because of concerns about crime.

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