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MEXICO: Vincente Fox, President

While the US presidential election imbroglio degenerated into a Byzantine splitting of legal hairs, Mexico was celebrating its election in different ways. Vicente Fox looks like a president, and he confidently towers over the scene, with a combination of serious purpose and whimsical humor. His enemies seem small in every way. They did not take defeat easily, and they were behind the violent protests which hit down-town Mexico City; the police handled them with justifiable firmness. Fox made two major appearances, one before Congress the other before some 10,000 guests in the National Auditorium. The latter event was joyful; Fox greeted his four adopted children with public affection . ( Being divorced, he could not emulate Al Gore. What happened to his ex-wife? She is never mentioned).

His address to Congress was tenser, since he was dealing with a body he does not control. He adopted a respectful attitude, saying that the president proposes, but congress disposes. At the same time, knowing that Mexican politicians are generally thought to be corrupt, he said he would not tolerate dishonesty. His enemies showed that they were poor losers They sat on their hands or shouted abuse, doing their best to disrupt the proceedings He took it all in stride ad read a speech laying out his aims. They may be summarized thus:

CHIAPAS: He said he would respect the agreement of San Andrés Larrainzar, which the EZLN of Subcomandante Marcos accused Zedillo of breaking. It was not clear what details were the subject of the dispute. He ordered the army to withdraw from the area of conflict, and TV showed army control posts being removed, a gesture which the local population received with mixed feelings. Marcos appeared in public for the first time in two years and, surrounded by other leaders of his gang, spoke condescendingly of his willingness to meet with Fox, although he does not trust neoliberals like him. Wearing stocking masks allowing only their eyes to be seen, the Marcos gang made the Colombian FARC seem almost respectable in comparison. However, there was no mention of Colombia, although it is hard to believe that he did not realize that he was behaving like President Pastrana and might end up ceding a portion of Mexico to the EZLN. (Zedillo had refused to respect the agreement of San Andrés Larrainzar because, he said, its violated Mexican sovereignty). If that happens, the US might need a Plan Mexico rather than a Plan Colombia. Much depended on Fidel Castro, who was very discreet, seen chatting happily with another leader due to keep his job for life, Prince Felipe of Spain. It was not known what agreement he had reached with Fox. In Oaxaca a new guerrilla force appeared apparently to indicate hostility to Fox.

Castro is popular among the masses of Latin Americans because they feel he understands their plight. Fox went out of his way to stress his concern for the poor, and quoted his breakfast with the poor children of Tepito as proof. It is not clear how much he can do to improve their lot.

THE CHURCH: It was unprecedented for a president of Mexico to visit the shrine of Guadalupe and to be photographed kneeling at the altar and receiving the host from a priest. He seemed quite sincere, but he must have realized that the network of priests would be a great help to him. To offset this, in his speech to congress he stressed that Mexico would remain a lay state. At this point his enemies rose repeatedly shouting "Juárez!", Benito Juárez being the symbol of the kay state, Fox just smiled and said "Juárez!" Fox would find it difficult to jump from the clerical horse to the lay one.

EDUCATION: Fox stressed education, saying he wanted every child to receive one. However, the troubles of the national university UNAM were in the back of his mind. UNAM was paralyzed because of violent strikes called allegedly to protest a slight increase in the nominal fees. As a result of the chaos, students were moving to private universities. Fox said education would remain free and would not be privatized. It was doubtful that this would persuade the strikers to restore peace to UNAM or do much to halt the flight of students to private universities.

OIL (PEMEX) AND ELECTRICITY: Both state monopolies are sacred cows, and again Fox tried to ride two horses. Having stressed their need for private capital, he now stressed his determination to keep them under state control.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS TO THE UNITED STATES: Mexicans get satisfaction from denouncing alleged US ill-treatment of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Fox vowed to protect their rights and to find jobs for them in Mexico so that they do not have to go north. In his address, Fox said little about the US, knowing that as a former manager of Coca Cola of Mexico and a promoter of NAFTA and of US investments he was widely viewed as guilty of malinchismo--selling out to the US. During the big ceremony Madaleine Albright sat looking bemused (she does not seem to know Spanish). In some ways i was like an Ibero-American congress, with President Fernando Enriuque Cardoso of Brazil speaking good Spanish. Certainly Mexico has achieved a leadership role in Latin America.

THE ARMED FORCES: The army is suspect in Latin America, so Fox did not hold in public the ceremony at which the chiefs of the armed services swore loyalty to him. The withdrawal of the army from Chiapas looked like a humiliation. To make up for this Fox appeared prominently at a march past in the Campo de Marte outside the capital. The moral seemed to be: respect for the armed forces in their place, but not in politics or in domestic disputes. Perhaps he and the armed forces leaders realized what had happened in the countries of South America where civilian governments were meting out punishment to army leaders who took too active a part in politics.

THE MEXICAN FEDERATION: Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country, and outside of Mexico City there is little affection for the capital. The most vehement expression of this dislike is the slogan: "Do a patriotic deed: kill a chilango (inhabitant of Mexico City)!" Fox seemed to promote a decentralization of the federation, although there was no mention of the old idea of moving the capital to Querétaro (incidentally, a very good idea). After the Mexico City ceremonies he went off to take part in celebrations in four major cities. More about that in a later posting.

Ronald Hilton - 12/03/00