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Will Fox's sober businessman side win out over the hysterical, authoritarian Cristero feared by his critics?

Related Gully Coverage

Taiwan's transformation from dictatorship into a promising democracy.

vicente fox

Mexico: Fox For Better or Worse

by Kelly Cogswell

JULY 17, 2000. For the first time in 71 years, Mexico will have a President that did not rise up through the ranks of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

No one was holding their breath on his behalf.

In the two-part election trial by fire, Vicente Fox Quesada had first to claim enough votes from the left to augment his support from the right. Second, assuming he got the votes, he had to run the traditional gamut of ubiquitous computer glitches, miscounts, hitmen, and assorted frauds that have dispatched outsiders in the past.

Surprisingly, Fox did it. Just a few weeks ago, on July 2, he won both the votes and the election.

Wooing the Left
Voters on the Left had to swallow a lot. The Jesuit-trained Fox has made no secret of the fact that he personally is staunchly Catholic in the staunchly Catholic, right-wing National Action Party (PAN). He is anti-abortion, anti-gay, an opponent of secular education, and is reviled by Mexican women's rights activists as a confirmed misogynist.

Mexico City's mayor Rosario Robles Berlanga has called him "an authoritarian-in-waiting" like Fujimori in Peru. Carlos Monsivais, an astute cultural critic who is gay, sees him as an extreme Catholic reactionary with something of a messiah complex.

On top of all that Fox is an ex-President of Mexico's Coca-Cola—symbol of all things Yankee—and economically committed to privatization, the bane of the Mexican Left.

To defuse his critics late in the race, Fox crafted a Mexico City speech bubbling with democratic principles. "I commit myself to maintain the lay character of the Mexican State and public maintain the liberty, diversity and pluralism of Mexican society and never to use the power of the state to impose lifestyles, religious beliefs or codes of personal behavior. To respect the liberty of creation, of culture and of expression of all the groups who form Mexican society."

Fox also promised not to privatize Mexico's state oil company, PEMEX, and to make the struggle against poverty and inequality his priority.

Criticized for a homophobic ad, which was then cancelled, PAN ran an advertisement in newspapers defending itself as "not against the gay community in any way." The ad added: "In a Fox administration, there will be freedom for people to live without masks."

The extent of his commitment to the right-wing PAN is unknown. He actually began his presidential campaign without their support, running instead as the leader of his own electoral machine, the Friends of Fox, whose primary focus is business and development, not abortion rights, which Mexico has never had, anyway.

The Clincher
Voters may or may not have believed Fox's moderate and democratic-minded declarations, or anything else he said. What won the election for him was the simple fact that he was a change.

labastidaThe PRI candidate Francisco Labastida's slogan was also change, and an end to corruption, but no one really believed that change would come from a man rooted in the wily 71-year old PRI dictatorship entrenched in corruption, violence, and fraud. Like the KMT in Taiwan, whose 50 year reign was likewise ended in their recent elections, the PRI spent their time in office socking away money, acquiring business interests, controlling unions, and more importantly, votes.

Despite the serious qualms Fox provokes, an end, any end, to the PRI's silkily dictatorial stranglehold is essential for the health of the tentative Mexican democracy, including the slowly strengthening press, and the electoral and judicial systems.

Change, if Fox can provide it, is also essential for the more than a quarter of Mexico's population which lives below the poverty level. Despite the fact that the country has a wealth of farmland, industries, and natural resources like oil, corruption and mismanagement has prevented few of the benefits from ever trickling down—a particularly bitter fact considering that Mexico has more billionaires than any country in the world except the United States.

The simple fact of Fox's election has already provoked some change in the political henhouse by throwing the corrupt PRI into disarray. Waves of PRI party bosses have resigned amidst charges and counter-charges. New corruption scandals are scattered daily like coffin nails.

Even Fox's simple act of hiring head-hunters to bring him the most qualified candidates for his cabinet, instead of installing his cronies, pushes Mexico's political culture down the road towards change.

Of course substantial change depends on whether Fox's sober businessman side continues to win out over the hysterical, authoritarian Cristero feared by his critics. Flexible negotiating skills are paramount. Despite his silver tongue, and handsome face, Fox lacks the Congressional majority, and has no currency whatsoever with the PRI-controlled unions blocking the way to further privatization. He is also just a single inexperienced mole against the mountains of drug-traffickers, violent criminals, and a corrupt, politicized police force—other serious domestic problems.

For any measure of success, he will need more friends than he won in the election, especially among the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The Left needs him as well. If they don't want to be rendered obsolete, they will have to accept his election as an accomplished fact, rouse themselves from their malaise, and plunge whole-heartedly into the faulty, slow, and cumbersome democratic process.

That means reminding the businessman Fox that what was voted in can be voted out by democratic "consumers", and hectoring, lobbying, cajoling, and annoying him while the election is fresh in everyone's mind.

There is also the small matter of the Left's Congressional votes. They don't have enough for a democratic revolution, or even a small coup, but they have more than enough to influence Fox—or play spoiler.

Related links:

For the Campaign Site of Vicente Fox.

For Political Parties of Mexico.

For Mexico: Treatment of Homosexuals.

For Complete Coverage Americas

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