Mexico's Fox marks one year in office; reviews mixed on his performance
By Kevin G. Hall
Knight Ridder Newspapers
MEXICO CITY - When Vicente Fox took office last Dec. 1, he ended 71
years of one-party, semi-authoritarian rule in Mexico. As he wraps up his
first year on the
job, analysts and common folk alike say the rugged, boot-wearing president has boosted
Mexico's image abroad, but failed to deliver significant domestic change for impatient Mexicans at home.
An unusually straight talker for a politician, Fox could do no wrong
on the campaign trail. On July 2, 2000, he beat out the candidate of the
Party (PRI), a party so synonymous with Mexico that one famous critic dubbed its long rule "the perfect dictatorship."
Shortly after assuming the presidency, People magazine's Spanish-language edition named the lanky, mustachioed president one of the 25 sexiest Latinos.
But in his first year in office Fox has been dogged by bad luck, handcuffed by a Congress he cannot control and an unruly multi-party Cabinet whose members do not follow any orchestrated Fox message.
The success or failure Mexico's first opposition president has in transforming a semi-authoritarian state into an open, multi-party democracy has tremendous importance for the United States. Mexico is the United States' second-largest trading partner, and the success of Fox's programs will affect the number of Mexicans who migrate to the United States and the flow of drugs across the nearly 2,000-mile border between the two countries.
Political analysts, U.S. diplomats and even opposition lawmakers credit
Fox with boosting the international image of Mexico, the world's eighth-largest
Mexico has won a seat on the United Nations Security Council and has scrapped a longstanding foreign policy of non-intervention for one championing human rights.
Fox is also credited with bettering the complicated relationship with the United States, which has resented Mexico's infusion of drugs and illegal immigrants.
"I think one of his biggest victories has been husbanding the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship in a new direction. We are talking about a wider range of issues than we did in the past," said a U.S. diplomat who works closely with the Fox administration and who asked not to be identified by name.
But at home, the reviews are not nearly so glowing.
"Right now, I'm not sure that I'd vote for him again. I feel a bit disillusioned
with the Fox administration," said Patricia Gutierrez, 29, a nurse in Mexico
City upset that
the economy has not improved.
In his first year, Fox has launched numerous initiatives to make migrating to the United States less attractive. He has promoted business opportunities in high-emigration towns and has shone a regulatory spotlight on companies that transfer home billions of dollars from Mexicans working in the United States. He has boosted scholarships for poor students, and built on creative micro-lending programs for the poor.
But those efforts are not widely publicized in Mexico and are unknown to many Mexicans clamoring for some sort of palpable change.
"There is not a clear vision," complained Enrique Moreno, 46, a teacher who said he felt let down by Fox.
The man-on-the-street pessimism is shared by many political analysts.
"He has not achieved a single important goal," said Jose Antonio Crespo, a prominent political analyst in Mexico City. "It's not easy to find a single success."
In his first year, said Crespo, Fox has failed to resolve the seven-year-old
Indian uprising in the state of Chiapas, offending the military in the
process and settling for a
watered-down Indian-rights law that satisfied few.
Fox has not made a dent on crime and has clashed constantly with the Congress, both with the PRI that holds a slight majority in both chambers and his own National Action Party (PAN) congressmen.
Consequently, few reforms of consequence have passed and the most crucial remains stalled - a proposed overhaul of taxes and reform of tax collection that would give Fox more resources to attack social ills. Not surprisingly, Fox paints a brighter picture of his first year in office.
"I see an excellent year on our part," Fox said Monday in an interview at the Los Pinos presidential compound.
Saying most of the criticism of his first year comes from opposition lawmakers, Fox noted there "is not one single campaign commitment that is not being attended to."
A former Coca-Cola executive, Fox promised more and better paying jobs
and a booming economy this year. But Mexico will grow by less than 1 percent
year is expected to see growth of just 1.7 percent.
"When he forecast, in his fiscal proposals for 2001, he spoke of 4.5
percent growth, discounting for the problem of the U.S. slowdown. The failure
in the economic
realm by the Fox administration is absolute," said Sen. Humberto Roque Villanueva, a PRI leader in the senate and Fox critic.
Fox countered that for the first time in 40 years, all the world's major
economies are slowing and that most of Mexico's economic problems stem
from the weakened
U.S. economy. Despite the downturn, he said, there have been gains.
"Every single worker in the formal economy had a 6.2 percent increase
in purchasing power, or salary, in real terms over inflation," the president
said, noting his
administration brought record low inflation rates and interest rates.
Mexico's deep integration with the U.S. economy assures that it shares the same cycle of ups and downs, but critics say Fox has spent too much time traveling abroad instead of winning passage of fiscal reform that would free up funds for more social assistance in a slumping economy.
"If Mexico is feeling effects from the international situation, it is exacerbated by errors and the lack of a strategy by Fox," said Rogelio Ramirez de la O, an economist, business consultant and columnist.
Adding to Fox's problematic first year, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States set back a cornerstone of his agenda. Four days before the attacks, PresidentGeorge W. Bush had agreed to negotiate with Fox over a proposal to legalize 3 million undocumented Mexicans in the United States and create a guest-worker program under which Mexicans could work in the United State and pay taxes in Mexico.
"Those proposals are dead on arrival in this current climate," said
John Keeley, a research associate with the conservative Center for Immigration
Washington, D.C. "It's a liberalization of immigration policy at a time when every member of Congress is talking about reforms that are more restrictive. It's
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Minority
Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., traveled to Mexico in late November to
help Fox keep
the thorny bilateral issue of immigration on the radar screen while the United States puts new homeland security measures in place.
Fox said "we are very close on their views of what should be done," adding "we are already back in negotiations."
Juan Hernandez, head of a new presidential office for Mexicans abroad,
said Fox has succeeded in his first year in winning U.S. support for immigration
recognize the special relationship Mexico has with its northern neighbor. That will bring results in 2002, he vowed.
"The United States has, in a sense, set the table. The forks are there, the spoons are there, plates are there. Now let's bring out the beef," Hernandez said.
On the issue of anti-narcotics efforts, the other tough bilateral issue, Fox gets mixed reviews.
"There have been more arrests of more medium-level bosses. If that is the indicator, there has been a small gain," said Jorge Chabat, a political analyst in Mexico City.
However, U.S. law enforcement heaps praise on Fox for his willingness to acknowledge publicly that drugs have corrupted Mexico's military and police. That, they say,has created an environment of real trust for the first time in two decades.
"The level of information that we have, the sharing of information between the government of Mexico and the government of the United States is at an all-time high," saida U.S. official who works on bilateral drug matters and who also asked not to be identified by name.
One example is Operation Landslide, the November breakup of a Mexican
heroin distribution ring operating in 11 U.S. states. U.S. law enforcement
information with top Mexican officials two weeks before raids began, something unheard of in past Mexican governments.
"We thought we got a considerable lack of cooperation and the corruption
problem was unmanageable and that things were broken," said the official,
noting that at leastat the top of Mexican law enforcement things are changing.
"The positive side of this has been nothing less than astonishing."