A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.

April 7, 2011

Former President Vicente Fox says
Mexico's democracy needs to be fixed

By David Gaddis Smith

Vicente Fox at USDFormer Mexican President Vicente Fox on Thursday said he regrets that he was not able to enact significant tax, energy and labor reforms during his presidency, and said the way the Mexican political system is set up is hindering Mexico's progress.

He said during a speech at the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute that "the same thing happened" to his predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, and his successor, Felipe Calderón, when they tried to enact similar reforms.

"We have a democracy that is not delivering," said Fox, who in 2000 broke the Institution Revolutionary Party's 71-year grip on the presidency. Fox, like Calderón a member of the National Action Party, served from 2000-2006. Fox said part of the problem is that since 1997, the executive branch has not had a majority in Congress.

"It is like a tower of Babel," he said. "We have to make our democracy deliver."

He said possible solutions could include having a second round of elections so that candidates must win with a majority instead of a plurality or changing to a parliamentary system, which "forces everybody to form majorities and get more cohesiveness in the act of governing."

Fox was famous during his campaign for president for demanding change in Mexico "¡Hoy! ¡Hoy! ¡Hoy!" (Today! today! today!). Once he got into office, however, he was often criticized for not acting quickly or forcefully enough.

In a press conference before his speech Thursday, Fox criticized George W. Bush for lack of action on passing a sweeping immigration law during Bush's 2001-2009 presidency. He said when he asked Bush during monthly calls when the reform would move forward, Bush's answer was always, "Mañana." He said the answer one time was "Mañana, President Fox. Right now I am busy with Iraq."

Fox said he was satisfied and "tranquilo" with the decisions he made as president.

Fox said that while it was tremendously significant that Mexico finally rid itself of the 71-year "dictatorship" of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), he said Mexico would not necessarily take a step backward if the PRI retakes the presidency next year. Polls show the PRI with a big lead for the 2012 election. Fox said what was important was the person elected president, not his or her party. "It is much more a matter of leadership rather than political parties," he said.

In his speech, Fox said "Calderón is too busy trying to control the drug market." He said the drug war is reducing tourism to Mexico, a major source of foreign currency, and also reducing foreign direct investment. "Drug violence is a problem. It's an obstacle we must remove as soon as possible," Fox said.

He said legalizing drugs could stop the violence.

"Most important is that we are losing kids." He said young men ages 14 to 25 made up most of the 40,000 killed in the drug war that began in December 2006. He said the army should return to its barracks and that Mexico needed to build up good and trustworthy local police forces, while noting that this would be a gargantuan task.

He said Mexico's problem is that it lies between drug-producing nations such as Colombia and the drug-consuming United States. He said that while Mexico is known for its marijuana, "California produces more than all of Mexico."

He also called for a halt of the free flow of arms to Mexico.

Fox said the main purpose of his visit to San Diego was to raise funds for the Centro Fox, which also houses Mexico's first presidential library, at his ranch in Guanajuato state. The former Coca-centro foxCola Mexico executive said the non-profit Centro Fox (photo at left) is part foundation, think tank and academic center, with a focus on leadership and how people can use free enterprise to improve their lives. He said it brings in ordinary Mexicans to listen to sessions on leadership. "We want to be the institution of micro-lending cooperatives," said Fox, who said he was a close friend of Muhammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work providing micro-loans to the poor in Bangladesh.

Fox said his wife, Marta Sahagún, was coordinating the Vamos Mexico charitable foundation. She came with Fox to San Diego, and he even kissed her onstage. He said Vamos Mexico was trying to provide wheelchairs for people who need them and helping cancer patients who cannot get the treatment they need in Mexico to get it in the United States, among many other things.

Fox said he was donating proceeds from his speeches to the Centro Fox, associated with various academic institutions and the Rand Corporation. He said it was discussing forming an association with the Trans-Border Institute.

Ever the marketer, the former president already had a web page about his USD talk online on the Centro Fox website Thursday night.

Fox said another purpose of his visit was to promote NAFTA, saying the North American Free Trade Agreement has become dormant and needs to be strengthened. "We have to wake up NAFTA," he said, calling for "NAFTA-plus."

He lamented the state of Mexico's educational system, noting that Mexico's percentage of high school and university graduates is far below that of the United States, South Korea and other countries. "Education is the only tool to change the nation in one generation," Fox said.

In the press conference, he called a restrictive immigration law passed by Alabama's House on Tuesday "stupid" and a product of "blinded vision." He said, "Migration is an enormous asset.... Migrants in this country are doing a great job this nation," adding, "The wrongful example of Arizona is taking us nowhere." When he called the restrictive immigration law passed by Arizona last year "a stupid law" during his speech, Fox got broad applause.

Fox also noted that the United States is in a situation where Americans are going to need immigrant workers in the country to help pay for pension plans, retirement funds and to care for the elderly. He said in the press conference that an overreaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks has caused a misleading understanding of the immigration issue.

Fox's speech, "Advancing U.S.-Mexican Relations in the 21st Century," was the 15th annual Sister Sally Furay lecture and was attended by Furay, a former USD provost. It was cosponsored by vicente marta fox david shirk bill headleyUSD's Center for Community Service-Learning.

Union-Tribune story on Fox's visit to USD

Union-Tribune on Fox's speech to Inter-American Press Association on Wednesday

Trans-Border Institute Director David Shirk,
Marta Sahagún de Fox, Vicente Fox and
Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies Dean
William Headley share the stage after Fox's talk.