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California's future linked to Fox's success

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Posted: Thursday, November 9, 2000 10:00 pm

As much as I'm pulling for the president-elect, I'm rooting harder for Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox Quesada.

Nothing is more important to Californians than Fox's success. As we begin the 21st century, the long and often tortured relationship between Mexico and California has reached crunch time.

If Fox's economic dreams for Mexico come true, then the pattern of nonstop migration north will finally slow. On the other hand, if Fox fails, Mexicans will continue to flock to California in search of a better way of life.

Mexicans come to the U.S. because they can get (relatively) good jobs at (relatively) good pay. The absence of decent paying jobs in Mexico make migration inevitable.Joe Guzzardi

Had these two conditions not coincided continually over the years, immigration from Mexico to the United States would have ended years ago.

Not only does the job shortage make California attractive to poor, unemployed Mexicans but also the prospect of a totally different lifestyle makes the allure even greater.

Mexico is still a developing nation.

Reliable electricity and potable water are hard to find. Mexico City is one of the most populated and dirtiest cities in the world.

While the elite live behind iron gates and are protected by bodyguards, the middle class has less buying power than it did 20 years ago and millions of poor earn less than $2 a day.

Given those conditions, those who can come to California. And if they don't get across on Monday, they they'll try again on Tuesday.

This is not to suggest that the Mexican presence in California has been an entirely bad thing.

In fact, the Mexican migration to California has been a mixed bag. Unquestionably, many industries in California's economy have benefited from the cheap labor offered by undocumented immigrants. Farmers, hotel and restaurant chains and other retailers have profited.

On the other hand, while many Mexican workers are underpaid, they are substantial users of social services. Mexican migrants have access to emergency medical care and their children attend public school.

Whether this pattern continues or ends depends on Fox. The former Coca-Cola executive was elected to change Mexico.

To that end, Fox promised that the Mexican economy would grow 7 percent a year. Among Fox's other promises are to institute the first tax-collection system Mexico has ever had, to create 1.35 million new jobs and to attract foreign capital.

Fox also pledges government austerity, an end to ingrained political corruption and increased social spending to eliminate illiteracy, poverty and disease

With an agenda that aggressive, Fox has only to make good on half his promises to totally transform the country.

While it is unlikely that Fox can carry out his plan during his one six-year term, the current report from Mexico is: So far, so good.

Instead of fears and apprehensions in Mexico, there are high hopes, all inspired by Fox.

"The revolutions of the 21st century have begun," the new president said.

Unlike every other Mexican presidential transition in the last two decades, there's been no economic crisis. The peso isn't plunging, investors aren't panicking and people aren't paying more for tortillas or televisions.

Out going President Ernesto Zedillo has enabled Fox to come to power in a Mexico that looks economically stronger than ever. Real growth has averaged 5 percent for the last four years. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican exports to the U.S. have increased from $60 billion in 1995 to more than $100 billion in 1999.

Trade between Mexico and the U.S. is at the rate of $30 million each hour. At this level, by 2004 Mexico will be a more formidable trade partner with the U.S. than the European Union.

Because of this tremendous turn-around, Wall Street has newfound confidence in Mexico's Central Bank. Moody's Investors' Service has upgraded Mexico's foreign debt to investment grade.

Gray Newman, the head of the Latin American economics group at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in New York, said, "Mexico's curse appears to be broken. But now there is a curse of abundance. Rapidly growing economy, flush with cash - sounds like you couldn't ask for more. That is why it is so risky for Mr. Fox right now."

Fox has to keep Mexico going forward. If he can do that, then the migration of Mexicans into an overcrowded and overburdened California will slow.

As an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, I have taught Mexicans for over 12 years. They are honest, hard-working, God-fearing people who, for the most part, would love to return to Mexico.

With conditions in Mexico improving daily, returning home to a good job may be more than just a pipe dream.

Joe Guzzardi, an instructor at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly opinion column since 1988. He can be reached via e-mail.

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