The Miami Herald
September 1, 2001

Wary Mexico to hear Fox

Presidential address aims at renewal of enthusiasm

 Herald World Staff

 MEXICO CITY -- President Vicente Fox will have an opportunity to re-ignite public excitement for his agenda today when he delivers his first state of the nation address, just nine months into a six-year term that he won by promising to bring change after more than seven years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

 The expectations were so high for a president who was not aligned with the long-ruling PRI that there has been an almost inevitable loss of enthusiasm among many of those who voted for him nearly 14 months ago.

 ``I wish he'd delivered more jobs,'' said Leticia Barrera, a 35-year-old saleswoman in a photo supply store here who cast her ballot for the former state governor. ``What he's done hasn't been that much.''


 Fox's speech marks the opening of the autumn session of Congress, whose support he needs to enact and fund ambitious programs that have been stalled due to badly strained relations between the chief executive and many legislators.

 The speech comes just before Fox embarks on a nearly week-long visit to the United States that will include an official state visit to the White House and will culminate with a speech to The Herald's Americas Conference in Miami on Friday.

 Fox's campaign promises ranged from getting more money into consumers' pockets and fighting corruption to reforming education, labor laws and health services and reducing crime. He has sent Congress few specific proposals, preferring to seek tax increases first.

 But he lost months as Congress debated controversial constitutional changes in Indian rights, then refused to act on his tax proposals in its spring term.

 ``He vetoed the rural reform law,'' said Humberto Roque Villanueva, a powerful senator from the PRI -- as the old ruling party is known in its Spanish initials -- which still controls the largest bloc in the Congress. The measure, which would have funneled aid to rural areas, was supported by all political parties.

 ``And he tried to get fiscal reform (including taxes on food and medicine) first through the press and then by trying to get the state governors on his side, when it's the
 Congress that has to approve it,'' Roque said. ``You can imagine the resentment in the Congress.''

 Even critics such as Roque concede that some of Fox's difficulties are beyond his control. Mexico's economy, for example, has been hit hard by the slowdown in the
 United States, the country's biggest trading partner by far.


 Fox said he'd achieve economic growth of 7 percent a year, but the most optimistic scenarios foresee growth of less than 1 percent in 2001. Instead of creating 1.35
 million jobs this year, Mexico looks to lose somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000.

 But what disturbs even many supporters is that Fox has failed to set and pursue clear priorities and to cultivate a working relationship with Congress. That's key, because his National Action Party holds only 206 of 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Congress, and 46 of 128 seats in the Senate.

 Without better relations with Congress, he has little chance of winning new taxes to pay for his extensive campaign promises or other reforms in the structure of the
 country's highly centralized government.

 Ortega and Roque said they hope Fox will admit his mistakes and pledge to work with Congress.


 But given his performance to date, independent observers are not optimistic that the president will be able to turn things around.

 ``Fox won't say much in the speech,'' economic analyst Rogelio Ramirez de la O predicted, ``but that will reveal that he has lost so much muscle. It will reveal a Fox who despite the mandate of July 2000 is in need of the Congress.

 The president's own party says these judgments are too harsh.

 ``It's very premature to make a judgment of a president who followed one-party rule that lasted so long,'' said Luis Pazos, chairman of the budget committee in the
 Chamber of Deputies.

 ``In nine months, we can't change the things of 70 years.''

                                    © 2001