Cover Story

The expectations game

Issue: "Hail to the Fox," Sept. 15, 2001

Nine months in office is more than enough time for foes and the foreign press to find soft tissue and bore in. Ask Vicente Fox.

Achieving a resounding victory at the polls in Mexico last year, one that ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year lock on the presidency, Mr. Fox pledged a top-to-bottom reform of the country's bloated bureaucracy. Critics of his promise to recreate Mexico into a country that "can punch above its weight" have battered his tax-reform proposals. Opponents say he is too popular abroad and accuse him of winning only partial agreement on immigration with the United States. The New York Times, in a condescending reference to Mr. Fox's "national wish list," noted that Mr. Fox may have made his own road harder "by paving it with good intentions."

That is not what George Bush saw in inviting Mr. Fox to Washington for the first state visit of his administration. The U.S. president's show of deference to Mr. Fox reflects a budding camaraderie that extends beyond their common love for the ranch. "Both are criticized by the 'super-intellectuals' and both dislike to be totally scripted," noted Alejandro Chafuen, president of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. But for those with "realistic expectations," said Mr. Chafuen, Mr. Fox "is doing very well."

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Some important if intangible shifts are already apparent: more transparency in government operations and new attention to public morality. Mr. Fox, a practicing Roman Catholic who attends church weekly, has promised "to govern by personal example," according to Mr. Chafuen. "Everything that has to do with the rule of law takes a long time to be seen," he added. Mr. Fox's legislative proposals have yet to prevail, but "there has been a change of attitude and behavior that is conducive to a more stable Mexico."

Plainly, Mr. Fox still has work to do to consolidate support among Mexico's legislators-and his own advisers. Last week, Mexico's delegation to the United Nations sided with other Latin American countries in supporting UN documents that promote abortion rights for children. It was the first time predominantly Catholic Latin American nations, voting as a bloc, came out against the Vatican on the issue. Politics in the region are again drifting leftward. In addition to Cuba and Venezuela, El Salvador and Nicaragua are expected to tilt left in upcoming elections. "Mexico will become an even more important force for stability in the Americas," said Mr. Chafuen.

Mr. Fox's results so far aren't all bad. Mexico's central bank is reporting a historically low 7 percent interest rate on short-term government debt. The country's budget deficit is less than 1 percent of gross domestic product, even with lowered tax revenues. And when Mr. Fox met with U.S. business leaders in Sun Valley this summer, he could boast that inflation in Mexico (for the first six months of the year) was below the U.S. inflation rate.


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