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Vincente Fox: Still much ado about nothing

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Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2001 10:00 pm

If Gov. Gray Davis wants to polish up his tarnished image, he should place a call to his close friend, Mexican President Vicente Fox.

All Davis needs is the telephone number of the public relations firm that handles Fox's image making.

Never in political history has there been so much ado about nothing as there has been in the U.S. about Fox.

Last week, I bluntly stated that Fox had plenty of work in Mexico. His time would be better spent at home taking care of domestic affairs than on the road dictating foreign policy to the White House. Joe Guzzardi

When I wrote my column, I had just read a New York Times exposé of the squalid living and working conditions of Mexican migrant laborers in Mexico. The story, "At Home, Mexico Mistreats Its Migrant Farmhands" by Ginger Thompson appeared May 6. Now, Fox has a plateful of additional problems in Mexico.

. First, the leaders of the National Indigenous Congress rejected as "political swindle" a redesigned Indian rights bill, one of Fox's most important initiatives. As the Zapatista rebels broke off political talks with the Fox government, some who wore the symbolic black ski masks burned effigies of the president.

. Second, the Mexican Congress tabled a Fox bill which would have allowed taxes on foods and medicines. The bill was to be the first step in a comprehensive fiscal reform program. Critics claim the proposed tax structure hurts the poor.

According to Alfonso Zarate, publisher of a Mexican political newsletter, Fox is still relying on the vague promises of a candidate rather than offering the specifics how revenues would be generated and how they would be used.

Said Zarate: "The president believed his popularity was enough to get the reform passed. And even though most Mexicans understand the need for tax reform, no one believes Mr. Fox's reform is fair."

Fox's pro-business policies have been questioned as the Mexican economy has slowed and hundreds of thousands of workers have been dismissed.

On May Day, labor leader Fernando Rocha Larraizar said, "The change offered by the new government is not a change, at least up to now, that benefits the workers of this country. For us, it is worrisome that the public policies announced by the new government indicate that the government has moved away from the commitments that were the banner of the presidential campaign."

Shortly after Rocha Larraizar's statement, the Finance Ministry announced that because of the sluggish economy and weak demand for Mexican exports, $367 million would be cut from federal spending programs. This created even greater doubt about the ability of the Fox administration to deliver on its promises.

. Third, one of Fox's most trusted advisers, Secretary of Labor Carlos Abascal, created a fuss when he insisted that important works of literature -including classics by Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez - be removed from his daughter's junior high school reading list. Abascal infuriated Mexicans when he stated that working women were becoming too masculine.

. Fourth, and most damaging, the newspaper La Reforma released a poll, which showed that Fox's popularity had slipped to 65 percent, the lowest since his election.

Only 15 percent of the 1,200 polled said they believed anything that President Fox says when he addresses the nation. And Fox has been unable to win the support of his own party, the National Action Party.

A political scientist at the Colegio de Mexico, Soledad Tovar Loaeza, said: "After five months in office, Fox has shown he is entertaining but not convincing. A lame-duck president after five months is dangerous and it can only mean more trouble ahead unless he can correct his political mistakes."

Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, placed Francisco Ortiz, a former Procter and Gamble marketing director, in charge of improving his popularity. Ortiz attributes Fox's declining popularity to his inability to communicate the benefits of his proposals. Soon, Ortiz promises, Fox will be able to deliver on his promises of more spending on social programs and more small business loans to the poor.

Of course, Fox will have a hard time correcting his mistakes when all his political capital is spent in the U.S. holding hands with President Bush.

Fox should remember that he was elected on the campaign promise to provide jobs for all Mexicans-jobs in Mexico and not the U.S., we assume.

And Bush should not forget that he was elected on a platform of tax reform and a more efficient federal government. He was not elected to create guest worker programs or open the borders.

If the two presidents could stay true to their pre-election pledges, both countries would be better off.

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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