Pubdate: Sun, 01 Sep 2002
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2002 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Julie Watson, The Associated Press


Address Today May Emphasize Fiscal Successes

MEXICO CITY - President Vicente Fox seemed unstoppable two years ago when 
he toppled Mexico's authoritarian political machine. He boasted he could 
end a seven-year rebel conflict in 15 minutes, root out endemic corruption 
and modernize poor farming villages.

But the energetic leader with a 6-foot-5 frame has been humbled, admitting 
he may have set hopes too high. As he prepares for his state-of-the-nation 
address today, he is telling Mexicans that building a democracy takes time.

"The first stage had a lot to do with fixing and mending, correcting and 
organizing ourselves to be able to do the job," Fox said last week. "We 
were very busy in that part of the equation and maybe that's why many are 
asking: What is the government doing?"

Indeed, the once wildly popular leader, whose shocker of an election on 
July 2, 2000, ended 71 years of single-party rule, is struggling to keep 
people's faith in him alive.

"Mexico is restless," said Maria Teresa Ramirez, 48. "People are worried. A 
lot are asking, 'What is going to happen?' "

Fox's slow progress has reasons beyond his control. The Sept. 11 terrorist 
attacks sent Mexico tumbling down Washington's priority list and sidelined 
his top priority: a major agreement that would allow more legal migration 
to the United States.

But critics say much of the blame lies in the former Coca-Cola manager, who 
they say has shown himself to be more of a businessman than a politician.

Many say Fox, who has visited 27 countries as president, has traveled too 
much and left matters unattended at home. Lawmakers say his marketing 
prowess hides a lack of political savvy, and complain that he announces his 
proposals to journalists before going to them.

Fox has also lacked focus, addressing domestic issues as if they were "the 
flavor of the month," jumping from one to the other without getting major 
results, said George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & 
Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Fox began strong, scoring a major political victory on his first day in 
office by bringing to the negotiating table a band of rebels who had 
frustrated his predecessor for six years.

But the glory was short-lived. Leftist Zapatista rebels, who led a brief 
uprising in 1994 in Chiapas state, quickly cut off talks after the Mexican 
Congress - against Fox's wishes - passed a watered-down Indian rights bill.

The elusive ski-masked guerrilla fighters retreated to the jungle, and Fox 
moved on to other matters.

Analysts expect Fox today to highlight his successes at bringing down major 
drug smugglers, and at keeping the economy afloat despite a U.S. recession 
that hurt Mexico's economy more than any other.

Inflation is at record lows and the peso is as strong today as when Fox 
took office, although the country has lost tens of thousands of jobs.

Mexico's legislature, courts and elections board have become more 
independent and Fox has given the public more access to government 
information, made elected officials more accountable and opened secret 
government files.

But he has only just begun to address his biggest obstacle - an often 
hostile Mexican congress that has blocked his initiatives and even stopped 
him from taking a trip to the United States.

Meanwhile, ordinary Mexicans want to see the change they voted for.

"We don't want to hear another politician say how he's done so much," said 
Artemio Ochoa, 56, sweeping a sidewalk in Mexico City. "We just want him to 
tell us the truth."
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager