Election Could Warm U.S.-Mexico Relations Corruption Prevented Closer Ties in Past
WASHINGTON -- American frustration at the questionable vigor of Mexico's fight against drugs will not vanish overnight. Mexico will not suddenly stop resenting U.S. lectures on narcotics. Corruption will not disappear; peace will not suddenly descend on the border.
But while American leaders do not foresee any specific changes in the U.S. policy toward Mexico, they do predict much warmer relations now that the country has resoundingly certified its democratic credentials by electing Vicente Fox, the first opposition candidate to win the presidency in 71 years.
U.S. relations with its southern neighbor are already cordial, to be sure,
and the friendship was bolstered in 1993 by the North American Free Trade Agreement. But as long as U.S. leaders viewed the Mexican political and legal systems as fundamentally corrupt, an invisible wall prevented the two countries from becoming closer, analysts said.
"If you watch how certain Mexican leaders were treated at the White House, the Clinton people always sort of held their noses," said Carol Wise, a Mexico expert at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. "I think you will see the next administration warmly embracing Vicente Fox. It gives Washington an opportunity to treat it like a clean slate."
Most damaging to U.S.-Mexican relations may have been the annual fight in Congress over whether to certify Mexico as cooperative in the war on drugs, enabling it to avoid economic sanctions. Year after year, vocal lawmakers bitterly charged that Mexico's corruption sapped the energy from its anti-drug campaign. Mexicans, in turn, viewed the debate as demeaning.
Clinton administration officials hope that Fox, as a fresh face with considerable charm, not only will root out the corruption in his country but also make Mexico's case to the American public in a way that his predecessors could not.
"The guy is incredibly impressive in person -- big, handsome, highly educated, perfect English, an air of gallantry about him," U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey said in an interview. "He is a risk-taker in a business leadership sense, and he has a pretty well-formed world view. This is a sophisticated, determined man. This guy can operate on both sides of the border."
U.S. officials were careful to stress they were not criticizing outgoing Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. U.S.-Mexican relations improved significantly in Zedillo's tenure, and without Zedillo's reforms, Fox's election might not have been possible.
"I would not say that we thought the relationship was bad and therefore it needed significant improvement," said one senior administration official. …