Vicente Fox and Mexico's Future
On December 1st, Mexico''s new president, Vicente Fox, was
inaugurated. Fox thus became the first non-PRI (Institutional
Revolutionary Party) leader in 71 years. There is a tremendous
feeling of hope in Mexico as Fox takes power. He has vowed
that, "The 21st century is the century of Latin America and
Fox, 58, is the former rancher''s son and Coca-Cola executive
who for the past three years has been running for president.
Then on July 2, history was made as he captured the election.
The new president has promised to reduce corruption, tackle the
education problem, respect human rights and the environment,
and make a dent in the fight against poverty.
His inauguration speech was full of soaring goals:
"(I want) a Mexico with an environmental conscience and
opportunities for all; a Mexico without corruption, competitive
and with a global vision."
"The fight against corruption begins today."
"We will make education a great national endeavor."
And as to the nation''s notorious history of spying on its own,
Fox commented, "An administration that spies on its people to
learn what they are thinking has not learned to listen."
When he spoke before the Congress last Friday, however, his
reception was far from grand. Fox''s National Action Party
(PAN) controls well below a majority of the two houses of
Congress and with the PRI in a state of disarray, the Congress is
deeply divided. The tension is such that no one rose to their feet
when he entered the room. Many booed his declarations and one
member shouted "Liar."
Yet Fox is undaunted. Speaking of his election he said, "July 2
was something much more profound, something that emerged
from within the heart of each Mexican: overflowing joy,
jubilation, hope, expectations, faith, a sense of responsibility and
optimism in the future."
Fox had campaigned as a man of the people, easily mixing with
the poor. The young people worship him, as he alone seems to
give them hope. And Fox is doing all he can right now to
cultivate this populist image, saying that he will tour the country
ceaselessly as well as sleep in a bungalow on the grounds of the
presidential palace, not in the presidential suite. Things happen
on the street, he likes to say.
Mexico is a nation of some 97 million. It has a huge percentage
of young people, 35% of which are under age 15. Contrast that
with 21% in the U.S. And poverty is widespread. The GDP per
capita is just $3,840 vs. $29,240 here.
It is Fox''s goal to reduce poverty by some 30% by the end of his
single six-year term. He certainly has his work cut out for him.
Of some 22 million Mexican households, only 35% have a
telephone. 10% still have a dirt floor. And only the richest 10%
have a chance to go to college (with only 1 in 100, overall,
graduating). The poorest 10% rarely make it past the first grade.
Fox hopes to help poor and middle-class students obtain college
President Fox also wants to tackle the problems with Mexico''s
indigenous peoples. He made a direct appeal to them on
inauguration day, "Nevermore a Mexico without you." This was
highly significant, because it was just 7 years ago (New Year''s
1994) that the Zapatista National Liberation Army launched their
surprise attacks against the government in the southern state of
Chiapas, a dirt poor Indian peasant region.
In 1996, Fox''s predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, had negotiated a
series of treaties with the rebels, promising aid and infrastructure
projects, but nothing was implemented. Fox, however, offers
But there are a lot of other issues for a Fox administration to
tackle; the primary one being corruption. As Fox, himself, has
said, this is "the evil of all evils."
Of course, corruption is the prime issue worldwide. I have
mentioned in my "Week in Review" commentaries how
depressing it is to think about the world situation and the
corruption that only seems to get worse and worse.
Governments such as those in South Korea, Indonesia and
Russia all talk about rooting it out. But then it only reappears, in
a different form.
Corruption and tax evasion have stifled Mexico''s development
over the last century. To begin to combat this, Vicente Fox
made his Cabinet members publicly swear an oath pledging
honesty and ethical behavior. And he vowed to release his own
finances, requiring this of all officials as well.
And tied to corruption is the drug trade. No need to spend too
much time on this topic. Except it should be noted that Fox has
spoken out against the U.S.
"The United States year after year blames us. Why? Who lets
the drugs into the U.S.? Who is doing gigantic business in the
U.S., then sends down millions of dollars that corrupt Mexican
police officers and government officials?" Of course, he''s 100%
In his inauguration speech, Fox also invoked the names of
Mexico''s most beloved reformers, many of whom were
assassinated, and for which he is looking to establish a truth
commission, ala South Africa.
Yes, Fox has a lot on his plate. It also reads like "promises,
At least he can bank on one thing, for now; a strong economy.
And he can thank former President Zedillo for that. Zedillo not
only hastened democracy, but with regards to economic policy
he understood that the central bank should be left alone to do
what''s right in this new era of globalization. The economy is
projected to grow at 7% this year, helped in no small part by the
big run-up in oil prices. But Fox recognizes he needs 7% growth
for years to come if he is to be able to enact many of his reforms.
One issue that the Wall Street Journal''s Peter Fritsch raised the
other day was that of the sugar industry, which threatens to
undermine any reform plans Fox may have had. The PRI had
turned it into a rural vote-buying machine, using state funds to
prop up an extremely inefficient business. For instance, some
refineries are 100 years old. The subsidies thus are a "bitter
inheritance" that Fox needs to do away with. But the rural
unions will undoubtedly rise up in opposition.
So you can see that for the new president, it will be awfully
difficult to put through his agenda without help from the
Congress. The severely wounded PRI still controls a majority in
both chambers, as well as two-thirds of the states. These are men
who were used to the riches of the corrupt good old days. They
aren''t about to start giving up their perks.
But Fox has said he welcomes the opportunity to exchange
opinions, harsh as they may be.
"I will share the power, and also the responsibilities. I am the
guardian of power, not its owner."
Meanwhile, Americans should desperately want Fox to succeed.
Aside from the drug issue, the illegal immigration one looms
large as well. Fox has grand plans for the overall U.S. -
Mexican relationship. I will save most of these discussions for
my "Week in Review" link.
Ginger Thompson / New York Times
Tim Weiner / New York Times
Niko Price / AP
John Rice / AP
Geri Smith and Elisabeth Malkin / Business Week
Morris Thompson / KRT News Service
Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan / Washington Post
Peter Fritsch / Wall Street Journal