Travel Ban Reflects Frustration in Mexico With Fox
President's Trip Was to Promote Trade; Critics in Congress See Few Benefits From Close U.S. Ties
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
MEXICO CITY, April 10 -- President Vicente Fox's close ties with the
United States and President Bush are causing him
political damage in Mexico, where critics complain that the cozying up to Washington has yielded few concrete benefits for
That frustration boiled over Tuesday when the Mexican Senate grounded
Fox like a misbehaving teenager. It voted -- for the
first time in Mexican history -- to use its constitutional powers over presidential travel to deny his request for a trip he had
planned for next week to the United States and Canada.
The veto was embarrassing for Fox, who was scheduled to meet with business
leaders, financiers, San Francisco Mayor Willie
Brown and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, whose private foundation plans to give Mexican schools and libraries $30 million.
In addition, clipping Fox's wings has escalated a political war between
Fox and Congress, which has already resulted in near
gridlock in the government. Many here predicted that the Senate's move kills chances for any significant legislation before
congressional elections in July 2003.
The glaring lack of results on Fox's domestic reform agenda is the key
reason that his once-soaring popularity has fallen. Fox
has promised to streamline government, reform the crucial energy sector and modernize antiquated labor laws. Fox and
Congress have blamed each other for months for the paralysis.
A visibly angry Fox went on the offensive Tuesday night during a nationally
televised live speech, squarely laying the blame on
legislators from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, saying that they were "putting their interests above those of the
nation so that Mexico does not progress." In the 71 to 41 vote, the PRI and Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, voted
solidly against Fox while his National Action Party, or PAN, voted with him as a bloc.
Fox said his trip to Seattle, San Francisco and Vancouver was designed
to promote trade and investment in Mexico, which the
public desperately wants, but charged that the opposition senators blocked it with "parochial politics."
The vote showed, however, that the balance of power has shifted. The
PRI controlled the presidency for 71 years until Fox
took office in 2000. During that time, Congress did the PRI president's bidding. Now, Congress is trying to establish itself as an
independent force in government, even hiring image-shapers and running television ads to promote itself.
But even as companies begin to hire lobbyists to deal with Congress,
Fox and his administration have seemed reluctant to take
the body seriously. Privately, members of Fox's administration complain that Congress is still hobbled by many members who
are ill-informed, ill-qualified and unwilling to deal with Fox.
Reelection of members of Congress is prohibited by law, which Fox has
proposed changing as a way to make legislators more
accountable to voters and less to party leaders.
"I can understand the frustration with Congress," said political analyst
Denise Dresser. "These are very provincial people who
have no understanding of international issues or of the changing international context."
But many people say Fox has made matters worse with inept handling of
the legislature on many issues, including tax legislation
and policies toward the United States and Cuba.
"The legislators have a point," said Rafael Fernandez de Castro, an
international affairs specialist at the Autonomous
Technological Institute of Mexico, or ITAM. "Fox has to improve his process and strategy for dealing with Congress."
Jorge Montano, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States, said
Fox has failed to keep Congress adequately
informed, especially on his dealings with Washington. For example, Montano said, legislators have not received an explanation
of a border security agreement Fox and Bush reached last month at a meeting in Monterrey.
PRI Sen. Silvia Hernandez, president of the Senate foreign relations
commission, said the vote to veto Fox's trip was a reaction
to his failure to keep the Senate informed. She said PRI legislators support Fox's efforts to improve relations with the United
States, as long as he consults with the Senate.
"We believe the strategy with the United States has not produced results,
and we have to change it," said Sen. Raymundo
Cardenas of the PRD.