Posted on November 23, 2004

Mexico Leader’s Legacy Tied To U.S.

Stephen Wall, San Bernardino County Sun, Nov. 19

He came in promising an end to poverty, crime and corruption.

But President Vicente Fox has failed to deliver much for Mexico’s 105 million citizens.

With two years remaining in his term, Fox, who is barred from seeking re-election, is looking to the United States to revive his struggling presidency and boost his party’s prospects in the 2006 election.

“People are disappointed with Fox,’ said Victor Lopez Villafane, director of the Center for North American Studies at the Technological Institute in Monterrey, Mexico. “He seems powerless to make decisions and appears to be waiting for his term to come to an end.’

If Fox could somehow convince President Bush to move ahead with immigration reform, he could bolster the chances of his conservative National Action Party keeping the presidency.

“If there’s an agreement, the (National Action Party) will stay in power,’ said Jesus De Santiago, a 43-year-old Mexican immigrant who lives in Rialto and still follows politics in his homeland. “It would be a huge triumph for President Fox.’

Bush is scheduled to travel to Mexico on a state visit next year. The U.S. president, fresh off his win over Sen. John Kerry earlier this month, will likely reiterate his support for a temporary worker program that he announced nearly a year ago.

Bush’s proposal, which has never been formally presented to Congress, would allow Mexican workers to take jobs that could not be filled by other Americans. At the end of their work period of up to six years, migrants could apply for green cards but would not receive preference over people already in line for legal status.

Bush has said the program is not a path to permanent residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Fox wants a comprehensive package that would legalize the estimated 4.5 million undocumented Mexicans in the United States and also allow a regulated flow of migrants across the border.

With the election of more Republicans to both houses of Congress, the likelihood of Bush’s plan becoming law is uncertain at best.

Still, Fox is holding out hope.

The former Coca-Cola executive in cowboy attire stormed into power in 2000 with a plain-talking, unassuming manner that impressed Mexicans accustomed to politicians wearing stiff suits and speaking in words they couldn’t understand.

But the down-home appeal wore off quickly, as Fox was unable to move his ambitious agenda through a divided Congress.

He couldn’t improve the country’s tax collection system, one of the worst in Latin America.

He failed to implement fiscal reforms and streamline a bloated bureaucracy.

He tried unsuccessfully to eliminate corruption and reduce crime to manageable levels.

“Fox was a great campaigner, just terrific on the stump,’ said George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. “I think the problem is he doesn’t like politics and doesn’t like politicians. He was unable to build coalitions early in his tenure.’

Soon, some of the same citizens who voted for change in 2000 started clamoring for a return of the political party that ruled Mexico for 71 years through favors, intimidation and sometimes outright force.

Last week, the still-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party won three governor’s races and nearly captured a fourth. An electoral tribunal also upheld the contested mayoral victory of a Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate in Tijuana, giving the party a key border city controlled by the National Action Party since 1989.

“We are reaffirming our presence,’ said Gustavo Santiago, vice president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in California. “There is a chaotic situation in the Fox administration. They are good as businessman but bad at governing the country.’

Fox has been stymied by a Mexican Congress that is controlled by opposition parties. The Institutional Revolutionary Party and left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution hold a majority in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, Mexico’s House of Representatives.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party and Party of the Democratic Revolution have often joined forces to block Fox’s legislative proposals.

“It doesn’t just depend on us,’ said Julio Cesar Molina, a National Action Party leader in the United States. “It depends on lawmakers from other parties to help us get things done.’

Molina said Fox is committed to clean, honest government that respects individual rights.

“We are working for the benefit of the population,’ he said.

Fox’s party is already facing a formidable challenge from Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s presidential candidate in 2006.

Lopez Obrador has won praise for his programs to provide food stipends to senior citizens, open a free community college in the capital and crack down on police corruption.

“He’s doing a lot to help needy people,’ said Fernando Vargas, a San Bernardino resident who was born in Mexico City. “I have never seen politicians do what he’s doing.’

A bribery scandal involving members of Obrador’s party has not significantly diminished his lofty approval ratings.

Institutional Revolutionary Party President Roberto Madrazo and Fox’s interior minister, Santiago Creel, are his main challengers in the presidential race.

The issue of immigration reform, which was put on hold after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, could change the dynamics of the campaign.

Even if Fox doesn’t get the comprehensive package he wants, any agreement would improve his image and bring votes to his party in 2006.

“It would be one major victory he can point to that came under his administration,’ said Armando Navarro, an ethnic studies professor at UC Riverside. “But I don’t know if it would be enough to catapult his party to victory in 2006.’

Roderic Ai Camp, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, said the race is wide open.

“No party has a strong partisan base that can guarantee it winning the election either locally or nationally,’ said Camp, who has written several books on Mexico. “People are just voting for the party and the candidate they believe can do something positive for them.’