The New Face of Mexico

By Jordan, Mary; Sullivan, Kevin | Harvard International Review, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

The New Face of Mexico

Jordan, Mary, Sullivan, Kevin, Harvard International Review

Vicente Fox's Mexican Revolution

Relaxing in a big leather chair on the family ranch where he was raised, Vicente Fox Quesada sees a new Mexico. When he was born here 58 years ago in this central Mexican farming village that surrounds a little peach-colored Catholic church, Mexico's political dynasty, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), was already firmly in control of the country. As a youth, Fox played around the family boot factory and drove 500 miles with his brothers to the Texas border to sell broccoli and brussels sprouts, and later when he became the chief executive for Coca-Cola in Mexico, the PRI was always there; it was Mexico's stage, scenery, lights, and director. It seemed as much a part of Mexico as the mighty Sierras and the magnificent sea.

But last July, Fox stole the show. He routed PRI candidate Francisco Labastida, a decent but colorless bureaucrat who recited party dogma to a nation that had heard it all too many times before. Fox was different. At six feet four inches tall--six feet six and a half in his signature monogrammed cowboy boots--he is Mexico's tallest leader ever, and he used that height like a tower from which to lob bombs at the PRI. He called Labastida "Shorty" and played off Labastida's name to call him la vestida, or transvestite. He used farm-hand language and an almost childish impatience to conduct politics in a way Mexicans had never seen. He shocked people--and took a temporary hit in opinion polls--when he petulantly shouted "Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!" at Labastida and a third candidate, former Mexico City Mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, in a live joint television appearance, demanding that the three hold a formal debate "Today! Today! Today!" People were turned off at this new spectacle, but only for a while. By election day, "Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!" was the delirious chant of Fox supporters who turned downtown Mexico City into a fiesta of strangers hugging strangers and believing that the big, rough man who was tough enough to take down the PRI was going to bring something different, something better, to Mexico.

Not long after his election, Fox returned to the quiet of his family ranch, surrounded by an army of siblings--he is one of nine children--and his 81-year-old mother Mercedes to sit for an interview. He was talkative and relaxed but tired from a week of meetings with heads-of-state on a South American tour.

"My vision is a Mexico modernized," Fox said, in a sonorous baritone carrying his fluent English across the grassy inner courtyard of the Spanish-style hacienda. He said he saw a country "with no poor, with human capital, people educated all over Mexico.

"And I see a competitive Mexico worldwide, a Mexico that has inserted itself very positively in globalization," Fox said. "I see Mexico as a growing partner of the United States, a needed, highly needed, partner for the United States.

"That's what I see out of Mexico," Fox said, leaning forward, pushing the point. "I want to make this country a nation."

Limited Time

There is little about Mexico that Fox does not want to change or improve to create his new Mexico. He sees himself as the leader of a new Mexican revolution. In fact, expectations for change are so high that they have become an obstacle Fox will have to overcome. He has promised big improvements on every front: he wants to open borders with the United States, help the poor, overhaul taxes, double foreign investment, improve education and the environment, reformulate the current law enforcement structure to make Mexico tougher for drug traffickers and safer for citizens. And that's only the beginning.

But Fox has two main problems: little time and a strong-willed, uncontrollable Congress. Mexican presidents are limited to a single six-year term, and many of the problems Fox is trying to tackle have existed for generations; it will not be easy, for instance, to lift 40 million people out of poverty when malnutrition and a lack of decent schools and jobs have worked against so many Mexicans for so long. …

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