RAY SUAREZ: Vicente Fox is a businessman turned politician, who is now trying to break Mexico's political monopoly -- its 70 plus years of one party rule. The former Coca-Cola executive is now governor of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, and he's running for president in Mexico's July elections.
Fox is leader of the National Action Party, called "PAN," its Spanish initials. Opinion polls now show him catching up with Francisco Labastida, candidate of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI.
There's a third candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, former mayor of Mexico City, but he is fading fast in the polls. Fox and his conservative, business-oriented followers in PAN hope Cardenas drops out of the race, or that somehow the two parties can make common cause with Cardenas' leftist backers to avoid splitting the opposition. Fox is a natural campaigner, easily moving among the crowds. Since his first run for governor, Fox has been trying to persuade Mexican voters to break the PRI monopoly on power, and his party has been winning state and local elections, especially since the collapse of the Mexican peso and the subsequent recession in the mid-90s.
In the face of strong opposition, the PRI has been trying to modernize and democratize itself, while maintaining its grip on power. Rather than hand-picking a successor, as was the long tradition, President Ernesto Zedillo pushed his party to hold a primary to choose its candidates. The first ever PRI primary chose Francisco Labastida by a wide margin.
This week, Fox brought his campaign to Washington. He urged the U.S. to keep its distance in the coming Mexican elections, and promised that a PAN government would succeed where Zedillo has failed in making peace in the state of Chiapas, where an armed rebellion still simmers. The candidate met with representatives of the Clinton administration and members of Congress. In a meeting with drug policy chief Barry McCaffrey, Fox repeated one of the themes he sounds on the campaign trail, that PRI- controlled governments are now corrupted by their ties with drug lords.
RAY SUAREZ: And Vicente Fox joins us now. Governor, welcome to the program.
VICENTE FOX, Presidential Candidate, Mexico: How are you? Thank you. Thank you for the invitation. Hello to everybody.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, this morning in a speech in Washington, you called the partnership between the United States and Mexico, concerning the drug trade, a failure. Why?
VICENTE FOX: Well, up to now, we've been playing a game that is more of a theater play than actual programs to stop the growing and expansion of drug trafficking. Certification on the part of the United States really doesn't work, and we've been asking that that should be canceled and eliminated, substituted by a coordination group that could build up a plan with actual, measurable objectives and commitments to each of the countries. We must put together countries that produce drugs, countries that traffic, and countries that consume, and through this multilateral effort really stop the growing of crime. Certification-- the only thing that it has done is the reaction of our Mexican government simulating that they are very active on combating drugs in Mexico for one month before the certification. But certification is over, and everybody forgets about it. We want to speak with the truth, we want to really put together an effort, a commitment on each side so that we make sure that we confront international organized crime with an international coordinated effort.
RAY SUAREZ: When you say "put together," the producers, the traffickers and the importers... if you were to become president, would we have the close cooperation by the border? Would we have American agents on Mexican soil any longer?
VICENTE FOX: No. No, I don't think we have to bring in American agents into Mexico as well as United States would not like police... Mexican police invading the United States. No. What we're talking about is a plan coordinated with actions for the specific programs, for homework to each one, responsibilities to each country in complying with it with real, real commitment.
RAY SUAREZ: Another major agenda item in your speeches in Washington has been the border and the traffic of human beings-- not drugs-- across the border from Mexico to the United States; a policy, again, that you've had much criticism for. What would you do differently?
VICENTE FOX: Well, what we would do is start to work in Mexico to have opportunities for everybody to have those jobs. We plan to increase the growth of the economy up to 7% to make sure that we have those 1,350,000 new jobs that we need in Mexico. But at the same time, we have this huge difference in salaries between Mexican side and U.S. side. A worker on the Mexican side will make five dollars a day; in the states, the same work would make $60 a day. What we have to really worry about at the end is reducing that gap and eliminating those differences. I'm talking long-term. So our proposal is to move to a second phase of NAFTA where in five to ten years that border will be open to free flow of people, workers, transiting in the border between our two countries, same as we're doing with products, services and merchandise. In longer... On a 20- to 30-year period, we should try to look for a common market of North America ideas. That's the only way we're going to be able to reduce those differences. NAFTA has been good, has created jobs in Mexico, has created jobs in the United States, but the problem is that income in Mexico has not improved in all the years of NAFTA. So we better start thinking of other ideas that can reduce this difference.
RAY SUAREZ: Many of the people who are watching our interview are watching their televisions in Texas and southern California and Arizona, and to hear you say that the solution to the problems at the border is to open the border, I think might be a little frightening to them.
VICENTE FOX: It is frightening, but let's look at the European experience. Twenty-five years ago, Spain, Greece and Portugal had the same differences in income with Germany, Italy or England, and today that has been erased. Today they have the same income in those countries now. Let's think intelligently. Let's think long-term. At the very end, what is going to happen is that immigration will be reduced considerably. And how can we get to that stage? By agreements on sectors. For instance, there is a huge need for gardeners in the United States. Today we're training in Guanajuato that kind of specialty, and they will be coming down here to the United States. Or other subjects of people that is needed here, if you would only figure out the impact of the Hispanic, Latin and other migrants' labor work on your gross product, you will notice that it's key to the growth of the United States, and nobody will end up without a job, and nobody will keep having the problems we're having today with migration.
RAY SUAREZ: One of the main points that you've made during your visit here, which is unusual for a candidate for the Mexican presidency, is to tell the United States to remain neutral, to not become involved in Mexican politics. Has the United States been involved?
VICENTE FOX: Well, there was a phone call of Mr. Clinton back in September congratulating Mr. Zedillo, which is Mexico's president, because of the primaries of the PRI, of the official party, which at the very beginning, they were not our real primaries. It was a fake. But even if it was real, what is news about a party being democratic? That phone call to me was partisan. So I think it's very important that the United States keeps out of the local electoral process in Mexico.
RAY SUAREZ: You mean it wouldn't be natural for a neighbor to encourage a political development that it sees as a step in the right direction?
VICENTE FOX: Well, I don't think it's... that was partisan, because it was a party's primaries, which were fake. And it was not the election, which should be democratic. And I wouldn't have any objections or opinions coming along related to a democratic election, but not on a partisan way.
RAY SUAREZ: Now you yourself have said that after 70 years of drinking one kind of beverage, it's hard for people to change their habits. After 70 years of having one party in charge, is it also difficult to change those habits?
VICENTE FOX: It is a huge challenge. Many times I compare it with that challenge that President Kennedy presented to the American people that he would put a man on the Moon ten years after. That was quite a challenge. And getting the PRI out of Los Pinos, it's a challenge bigger than that one of putting a man on the moon. So we do have that challenge, but fortunately, people in Mexico today, 60%, which is a majority, are not with PRI's project anymore, and we want a change. This majority's being led by us, and so it's for the first time the real opportunity, July 2 of this year, on that election, to get rid of PRI and to start the real democracy in Mexico, to start growing like the country should have done in these recent years and has not, and to make an education revolution. That's where we have to concentrate the effort to equip every single Mexican with a higher degree of education, with more knowledge so that we can compete on globalization.
RAY SUAREZ: And Americans should know that Los Pinos is where the Mexican president lives.
VICENTE FOX: The White House.
RAY SUAREZ: It's the White House.
VICENTE FOX: It's the White House.
RAY SUAREZ: Aren't the... Isn't the deck still heavily stacked in favor of a party that controls many local governments, that controls many state governments? Aren't you still climbing a steep hill here?
VICENTE FOX: Yes. Really we're facing a state candidate, as we call it in Mexico. This means that government, the actual president, Zedillo, and the whole structure is backing up the official candidate. And this is why they've been able to stay in power for 70 years through those means, plus making a lot of tricks, fraud, and whatever they can to make sure that they stay in power. But the Mexican people is now ready for change. We are already tied up with Labastidas on the polls. We have the same level of acceptance right now, 40% each. And this is historic in Mexico, and this makes me believe, and be certain that we will win the presidency of Mexico.
RAY SUAREZ: Governor Vicente Fox, thanks for being with us.
VICENTE FOX: It's a pleasure, and thank you.