Mexican President Vicente Fox entered office in 2000 amid high hopes for a new era in politics with more openness in the federal government, less corruption and more economic stability.
When Fox leaves office in November, his legacy could be far less memorable given the growing political rift between left and right, escalating street drug wars in border towns and coastal communities and a near revolt in the state of Oaxaca.
Fox easily won his single, six-year term in an election thought at the time to hold earth-shaking import. He had ended the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and oversaw the first peaceful transition to the political opposition in almost 180 years of Mexican independence. Fox sought to use his victory as a public mandate to push for enormous political reforms to match a new economy under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The former Coca-Cola executive can point to some progress, as inflation has remained low during Fox’s tenure while poverty rates have dropped below 50 percent and manufacturing exports have jumped, according to The Economist magazine. The Zapatista insurrection was quelled early in his administration, and the government has survived other sporadic uprisings.
But economic growth has been anemic, the main reason behind the steady wave of illegal immigration in the U.S., said experts with the Center for Economic Policy and Research. Drug violence and murders have created widespread fear from Ciudad Juarez to Cabo San Lucas. And most observers believe the gap continues to widen between the poorest Mexicans and the richest.
All of this has reached a crescendo in the aftermath of this year’s election to select Fox’s replacement. The winner by a narrow margin, Felipe Calderon, plans to follow Fox’s initiatives toward a freer economy that relies more on private investment than on socialist government control.
But leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refuses to accept defeat, and he has ignored the example set by Fox and other Mexican politicians in 2000. Lopez Obrador has been able to call on hundreds of the thousands of followers to flood the streets of Mexico City for months. These protesters prevented Fox from delivering his final speech to the National Congress, and then last week forced Fox to relocate the traditional re-enactment of the “shout” for independence from Spain.
Now, Lopez Obrador is seeking to establish a parallel government that threatens to confuse and severely weaken a Calderon administration.
As Fox counts down his final days in office, he must be looking at the chaos around him and wondering when Mexico will be finally ready to embrace a better future.