Today, Mexico City street kid Manuel Santos will have breakfast
with his president.
Before Vicente Fox dons the presidential sash and becomes
Mexico's first president in 71 years not from the PRI, he'll stop
by this slum in the capital. Here, he'll break tamales and sip
atole (a hot sweet-milk and corn-starch drink) with street children
and locals. (See related story, page 2.)
There's a public relations element to this breakfast, of course.
But along with Fox's other moves, it shows how the cowboy president
is already changing the traditionally imperial Mexican presidency,
in ways big and small.
"I don't think Senor Fox is doing this just for his image,
because most people see us as animals, so how could it help him to
be seen with us?" Manuel reasons. "I think he's telling us that,
for him, we count."
Fox takes office today on a wave of demand for change. His focus
will be a revival of the impoverished Mexican middle class and a
great leap in the number of Mexicans who, like Manuel, feel they
"count" and have a stake in their country.
After a series of popular fiestas around the country this weekend
to celebrate the new Mexico that emerged from July's landmark
elections, Fox will permanently throw open to the public the
president's gated official residence, Los Pinos.
He is also scuttling what he considers outdated taboos. He'll
host an inaugural dinner tonight at Chapultepec Castle, long a
pejorative symbol of the Mexican "royal president." He's already
been publicly practicing his Roman Catholic faith, despite a
tradition dating to the Mexican Revolution that presidents be
distanced from the powerful church.
"It was our bad custom in Mexico that presidents were grand,
distant men who didn't live normal lives among the people and
didn't have to stoop to the level of the lowest among us, like
street children," says Lucia Ruano, who runs Liberty House, where
Fox will breakfast. "The changes are as much for us as for Vicente
Fox, because now we will have to see ourselves differently, even as
we see our leaders differently."
Fox plans no drifting from the global-trade, free-market economy
constructed by his two predecessors. But this former Coca-Cola
executive will mix his pragmatic business side and an obsession with
tackling poverty, immediately focusing on up-by-the-bootstraps
As he did as governor of Guanajuato state, he'll set up a program
of microcredits for marginalized Mexicans with ideas for generating
wealth. And he'll budget millions of dollars for scholarships and
credits for schooling through college level, with the idea that no
Mexican child should leave school for economic reasons. And as he
sets out to accomplish that, the new president will be sending an
important message to the rest of the hemisphere: that change can be
accomplished with respect for the rule of law and without resorting
to strongman, "caudillo" presidencies.
"Fox has committed to a limited presidency, and that's healthy,"
says Delal Baer, a Mexico specialist at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies in Washington. Part of that is Fox's
dominant pragmatism. He knows he's taking office with a Congress
that has no clear majority and where the three principal parties
(including his own center-right National Action Party) are on the
couch analyzing identity crises. …