Mexico President Taps Ex-Citigroup Spokesman for Image Makeover

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is tapping the former spokesman of Citigroup Inc.’s local Banamex unit to revive the image of a nation and government rocked by scandal over the past half year.

Paulo Carreno, 44, joins the administration Friday, overseeing a country branding strategy designed to promote Mexico assets that the administration sees as underappreciated abroad, such as its cuisines and eco-tourism destinations. The job includes attracting foreign investment to Latin America’s second-largest economy and overseeing international press relations, said Eduardo Sanchez, Pena Nieto’s spokesman.

The appointment comes after seven months in which Pena Nieto has been dogged by protests over the apparent mass murder of a group of college students and alleged conflicts of interest involving homes that Pena Nieto, his wife and his finance minister bought from government contractors. The scandals have raised concern about security and the rule of law ahead of lower-house elections scheduled for June 7.

“Paulo is a great addition,” Sanchez said in a phone interview. “He has very strong training in terms of communication and political communication. We’re going to take advantage of all the experience and knowledge that he has.”

Carreno is no stranger to the hot seat. From 2007 until January, Carreno headed external communications for Banamex, Mexico’s second-biggest lender by outstanding loans. His last year on the job was dominated by managing the public fallout after Banamex alleged a $400 million loan fraud by oil-services provider Oceanografia SA. The bank’s internal investigation led to the dismissal of at least a dozen people.

Family Experience

Banamex Chief Executive Officer Javier Arrigunaga resigned in October following the Oceanografia losses and revelations that the bank’s private-security unit had been engaged in illegal and unauthorized activities.

When asked about his own departure, Carreno said he left Banamex on “very good terms.”

Carreno follows in the footsteps of his father, Jose Carreno, a journalist who served as a communications director for then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari in the second half of his six-year term, which ended in 1994. Paulo Carreno also worked with Salinas after the president left office, helping promote his book “Mexico: A Difficult Step Toward Modernity” published in 2000.

Pena Nieto’s election in 2012 returned Salinas’s same Institutional Revolutionary Party to power after a 12-year hiatus from seven decades of uninterrupted rule. The 48-year-old president’s popularity has suffered as Mexico’s economic growth missed analysts’ forecasts over the past two years and he pushed through a controversial overhaul aimed at boosting growth by opening the state-controlled energy industry to private investment.

Approval Ratings

Approval for Pena Nieto dropped to 39 percent in December, the lowest for any Mexican president since the mid-1990s and down 11 percentage points since August, according to a poll by Mexico City newspaper Reforma.

The drop came after weeks of protests following the September disappearance of 43 college students, who the government says were killed by a drug gang working with local police. The demonstrations grew after the November revelation by website Aristegui Noticias that first lady Angelica Rivera bought a luxury home in Mexico City from government contractor Grupo Higa.

The report on Rivera’s house was followed by a December Wall Street Journal report that Finance Minister Luis Videgaray purchased a home from a unit of Higa in 2012. Then in January, the newspaper reported that Pena Nieto in 2005 acquired another house on a golf course in the State of Mexico, where he served as governor, from the owner of contractor Constructora Urbanizadora Ixtapan, or CUISA.

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