At his inauguration last week as president of Mexico, Vicente Fox promised his country the end of corruption, better education, more attention to human rights, environmental protection and economic progress. His ability to accomplish the impossible is enhanced by his already strong record regarding the improbable.
It started in July with his stunning electoral victory over the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, the political machine – entirely institutional and not a bit revolutionary – that had controlled Mexico with unbroken authority for 71 years. It continued with his first speech to Mexico’s Congress Friday, during which the once unchallenged PRI members attempted to shout down the new president and instead found themselves ridiculed into silence. It continued Sunday, when Subcommander Marcos, leader of the seven-year-old rebellion in Chiapas state, emerged from the jungle and offered his first conciliatory words in years to the Mexican government, a remarkable response to unprecedented gestures by the newly installed president.
If Vicente Fox’s presidency is not, as billed, “a new future” for Mexico, it is doing an awfully good impersonation. Millions of Mexicans who never voted in previous elections (the predetermined outcomes spoiled the suspense) went to the polls this summer. Average citizens stood guard at polling places to prevent the widespread fraud that made elections of the last seven decades so pointless. The inauguration ceremony, drab and lifeless events under PRI, was a festival of music and cheering, with hundreds of thousands in attendance. Mr. Fox himself, a powerfully built, plain-spoken populist, a ranch hand’s son, bears no resemblance to his highly educated, impeccably dressed and empty predecessors.
The cornerstone of Mr. Fox’s new future is a clean break with the political corruption that has plagued Mexico throughout the PRI years, corruption that tainted every aspect of life and that kept Mexico perpetually in the category of developing nation. While eliminating corruption from government is everywhere a crusade without end, Mr. Fox has begun nobly – for the first time in Mexico’s history, cabinet members are required to swear an oath pledging honesty and ethical behavior, they must fully disclose assets and financial interests. Mr. Fox says he will wage war on corruption down to the lowest level of local government, it’s success holds the key to improvements in education, human rights, the environment and everything else on his agenda.
The new president also has vowed to improve U.S.-Mexico relations, which during the last several decades have steadily degraded to a low boil of animosity and misunderstanding: The United States will no longer be Mexico’s social-pressure safety valve; Mexico will no longer be the United States’ location of choice for low-wage, high-polluting industries. Mr. Fox’s ultimate goal – the free flow of goods and people across the 2,100-mile border – will be reached only through that degree of social and economic equilibrium. It sounds impossible, which is exactly what the PRI thought before the election last July.