The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 9, 2002; Page A15

Fox Adopts More Formal Style

Mexican's Change in Tone Accompanies New Focus on Domestic Issues

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 8 -- President Vicente Fox, who favors blue jeans and has worn cowboy boots to state dinners, is famous for slang expressions and
improvised remarks. His casual style was welcomed by many Mexicans as a sign of new times after he defeated the party that ruled the country with solemn authority
for seven decades.

But as serious problems mount in Mexico, the president now seems intent on returning some of the formality to his office. He is also promising to spend more time
there. After a year of international jet-setting, Fox says he will spend the second year of his term focusing more on such domestic issues as strengthening the economy
and combating crime.

"I have to recognize the public and the media demand a very serious presidency that doesn't joke around, and I have learned -- I am correcting that aspect," Fox said
in one of a series of television and radio interviews he has granted in recent days. "Okay, we are going to be more formal."

Polls show that a majority of Mexicans support Fox. Approval ratings that had been soaring above 80 percent still hover around 60 percent, thanks partly to the fact
that while Argentina's economy is collapsing, Mexico's seems resilient, even though unemployment is rising.

But with the Mexican economy so dependent on U.S. consumers buying everything from cars to radios to blue jeans, the slowdown in consumption north of the
border has cost hundreds of thousands of Mexicans their jobs. And a rash of kidnappings and robberies has led public security officials to acknowledge that crime is
on the rise.

Fox's public support has slipped steadily over his first 13 months in office, and polls and conversations with Mexicans show people are impatient for the concrete
improvements in their daily lives that Fox promised.

"Fox is attempting to reinvent himself, given the not-so-glowing results he had in the first year," said political commentator Gabriel Guerra Castellanos. "Mexico is
essentially a conservative country that likes its president in a suit, well dressed and well behaved. But what people really want is a more focused and organized

Rather than talking about improved relations with the United States, a banner theme last year, Fox is now talking about the domestic economy. "We are going to
focus all our efforts toward achieving a sustained recovery of income," he said in a television address yesterday.

He has also been promoting his new Federal Office of Investigation, a police force similar to the FBI that he hopes will avoid the corruption and inefficiency that
plagues Mexico's other police agencies.

Many analysts here are looking to Fox to take a more productive approach this year in his relations with the National Congress. The legislature, until recently little
more than a rubber stamp for the president, is exercising new power in Mexico's evolving democracy. Yet Fox and his team have often ignored the two-chamber
body or treated its members with disdain.

Already this year, Congress has torn up Fox's plan to reform the tax system, one of his most important initiatives. Fox was criticized for not mounting a successful
campaign to sell the plan to either the public or to Congress.

"I think they have learned they have to deal with Congress," said Guerra, a former diplomat and presidential aide.

Today, in another effort to bolster his image, Fox named political veteran Rodolfo Elizondo as his new chief spokesman. Fox has had a rocky relationship with many
Mexican journalists, who have criticized the president for being shallow and talking too much.

"We are opening a new chapter in the government's relationship with society and the media," Fox said in announcing the appointment of Elizondo, a close friend.

Last year, Fox complained loudly that the media was blowing out of proportion insignificant moments, such as the time he kissed his wife, Martha Sahagun, in front of
the Vatican in Rome. The photograph offended some Mexicans -- the Roman Catholic Church doesn't recognize the Fox-Sahagun marriage because both are
divorced -- and some commentators objected to the image of their president acting like a tourist.

Francisco Ortiz -- who is leaving his job as Fox's spokesman to return to his job as image coordinator and pollster -- said the president will not travel abroad until he
visits the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, next month. In addition to staying closer to home, Ortiz said, "I think he is trying to be more formal -- but we are still working
on that."

Fox, who wore cowboy boots, along with a suit and tie, to today's news conference, shrugged off a question about an image makeover. He is, he said, "just as

                                               © 2002