With much of the world's attention focused on the Mideast crisis and the fall of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, few noticed last week when a political war erupted in Mexico's capital.
It started when the opposition-controlled Senate shot down President Vicente Fox's request to travel this week to Canada and the US for meetings with business and government leaders. The 71 to 41 vote marked the first time in Mexican history that the legislature had exercised its right to block a presidential trip.
Mr. Fox fired back in a nationally televised address, telling Mexico's people that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) he toppled in the 2000 elections was "determined" to prevent "the change you voted for."
The PRI had ruled Mexico for seven decades before Fox was elected president almost two years ago. It still holds the largest number of seats in the two Houses of Congress. Since Fox took power, the congress has consistently stalled or rewritten key legislative initiatives Fox has put forward.
Yet the latest round of fighting marks a new level of hostility between the two, analysts say, because for the first time Congress has effectively blocked Fox in his day-to-day business.
"This is much more serious than the problems he faced in the past," says political analyst Jorge Chabat. "Now the Congress is making decisions that affect his foreign policy."
Mexico's transition from 71 years of single-party rule has been a bumpy one. The PRI has had difficulty playing the role of backbencher, and Fox has often seemed more comfortable in the role of combatant than of president. But observers say that if Fox continues to have domestic successes, such as recent high profile drug-trafficking and corruption arrests, he will be able to weather this political storm.
Legislators said they banned the trip to protest Fox's muted reaction to a recent US Supreme Court decision that limits the rights of immigrants working in the US illegally. They were also irked that Fox did not report to Congress directly on his recent meeting with President George Bush, held when the US president came for a UN summit in Monterrey.
Many analysts say the legislators have taken a big gamble in attacking Fox on foreign policy, an area that is both regarded as his strong point and which constitutionally is clearly under the president's …