Mexico's New-And Reef-Ridden-Waters

Article excerpt

The July 2000 elections undoubtedly marked the dawn of a new era in Mexico. The Mexican people enthusiastically brought about a peaceful and stable change in their long-standing regime by casting their votes for Vicente Fox, the presidential candidate backed by the opposition--a coalition of the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN) and the Mexican Green Party.

That election, which evolved into a referendum for change rather than an ordinary election, brought an end to the 71-year lock on the presidency by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a reign that dates back to the days of Herbert Hoover. It is no wonder that Fox's electoral victory was immediately heralded throughout the free world, which equated its significance to the fall of the Berlin Wall or Nelson Mandela's election as president of South Africa.

President George W. Bush, comprehending Mexico's importance to America, and Fox have placed a high priority on the relationship between their two countries. Indeed, the American president's first international trip, in February 2001, was to San Crist-bal, Guanajuato, Fox's equivalent of Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch, a fact clearly demonstrating the friendly tenor and focus on the bilateral relationship. In addition, Bush's first state dinner was reserved for Fox in September 2001.

Both presidents have placed so much emphasis on the relationship because of three factors:

* The high degree of social and economic integration between the two countries.

* Recognition that Mexico is at a critical juncture from a democratic standpoint and needs all the support it can get to make its newfound democracy sustainable.

* Changing demographics in the United States and the increasing political importance of the Hispanic vote in U.S. politics.

After his historic 2000 election, it appeared that Fox would charge on, overcome any and all obstacles, and bring about the change mandated by the Mexican people--something he had repeatedly promised throughout his campaign. However, the same election that delivered him the presidential sash also handed him a less than desirable party composition of Congress, particularly since the PAN had never before occupied the presidency. As he grapples with the pitfall-ridden Congress, Fox must address intricate domestic policy challenges, such as the economic slowdown, widespread corruption, the drug war, and the outstanding social and indigenous issues that are the remnants of the ethnic Mayan rebellion that started in Chiapas state in 1994.

The new government is facing an identity crisis. For the first time in its modern history, the country's bicameral Congress is completely divided, with no single party holding an absolute majority in either the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate. While this composition has invigorated Mexican democracy, it has also complicated the task of governing the nation.

Gone are the presidential good old days derived from having a rubber- stamp Congress--a situation enjoyed by all 12 preceding PRI "imperial" presidents, though former President Ernesto Zedillo benefited from it only during the first half of his term, that is, before the PRI lost its majority in the Chamber of Deputies in 1997.

POLITICAL EARTHQUAKE

The current composition of Congress requires Fox to garner not only the support of his own party, the PAN, but also that of either the PRI or the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) if he is to gain the votes necessary to get his legislative agenda passed.

A little more than a year into his six-year term in office, Fox is engaged in a relationship with Mexico's fifty-eighth Congress that thus far has been one of adjustment and incremental change. This situation should surprise no one, given the number of unprecedented political firsts that Mexico is living through today. …