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Mexico’s Vicente Fox shows he has a lot of chutzpah

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Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2000 10:00 pm

In Yiddish, the word is chutzpah. The Spanish is descara.

What we would say is: "He's got a lot of nerve."

I'm referring to Mexico's president-elect Vicente Fox's visit to the United States and Canada.

Fox came to the United States and Canada to sell his vision of the North American future. Excuse me, but who asked him?

Remember that Fox has not spent one single day in office. When he takes over in December, Fox will become the president of what has been the most corrupt country in the Western World, with the possible exceptions of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, for more than a half a century. Joe Guzzardi

To understand the gall of Fox traveling north to tell the United States and Canada how things are going to be, imagine that the fixer-upper down your street finally sells. The paint is peeling, the grass is two feet high, the windows are broken, the fence is falling down and the roof is caving in.

The new owner, before he moves in, knocks on your door and says, "I'm in charge of the block beautification program. You need to trim your hedges."

Hey, Senor Fox, we wish you all the best in the world. We want you to succeed. But before you come around selling your far-fetched ideas of allowing goods, services, capital and people to move freely across the border, may I remind you that you've got your hands full at home.

Issues like poverty, education, drugs and jobs need your full time attention.

In his Aug. 25 column in the New York Times, "A New Kind of Neighbor," Fox claims he, "will redress the age-old poverty and inequality that, despite economic gains in several regions, still plague too many Mexicans."

Continuing, Fox states that he "will accelerate economic growth, promote local and regional development and above all ensure better distribution of income."

The problem is that we've heard this all before. In fact, Californians heard it as recently as last year when our esteemed Gov. Gray Davis and the out-going chief executive Ernesto Zedillo visited Mexico and California respectively. Oh, the promises that were made!

Fox should also stop talking about the North American Free Trade Agreement and how he's going to build on what has already been achieved.

One of Fox's predecessors, Carlos Salinas, promised that Mexico would strive to export products, not people. But the benefits of NAFTA haven't reached Mexico's 40 million poor and the number of immigrants to the U.S. has increased, not declined.

NAFTA is the program where the little guy north of the border gets screwed and the little guy south of the border gets screwed, too. Fat cats on both sides get fatter.

For a frank account of how NAFTA works see "The Man Who Took My Job: A NAFTA Journey" by Dan Baum in the April 27 issue of Rolling Stone.

David Quinn from Ft. Wayne, Ind., lost his $10.50 an hour job, his benefits and his pension when Breed Industries fired all 455 employees to move the plant to Mexico. Since other auto parts factories in Indiana were also transferring their operations to Mexico, Quinn couldn't find work.

One day, Baum and Quinn set out for Mexico to find the worker who had Quinn's exact job of manufacturing steering wheels.

Baum and Quinn finally located Alejandro Morales in Valle Hermoso. Morales base pay for a 48-hour shift is $29 dollars. Breed Industries, Mexico, offers no benefits, no pension and has no safety code.

Is that what Fox wants to build on? Yes, NAFTA has been a success as a trading bloc and has helped the Mexican economy, but often at the expense of the Mexican worker.

Fox points to the European Union as an ideal that North America should strive for. Mexico is the least developed partner in NAFTA just as Ireland and Spain are the European Union's poorer members. Both those European nations have been helped enormously by inflows of money from richer EU states.

Ireland and Spain, however, exist within a federation where the rich are obligated to lift the incomes of the poor.

Fox points to his election as "the onset of democracy." Everyone hopes that is the case. What's good for Mexico is good for the United States.

But just wishing doesn't make it so. The burden of proof is on Fox. He needs to develop credibility.

Fox should roll up his sleeves and get to work. Then, when he's developed a track record, Fox can come calling again.

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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