|A MANDATE FOR CHANGE|
November 29, 2000
Jeffrey Kaye reports on the challenges Vicente Fox faces as he becomes Mexico's new president.
RAY SUAREZ: Next, a North American country that managed to elect a president on schedule. The new president of Mexico takes office this Friday. Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles reports on the challenges he faces.
|Promises of dramatic change|
JEFFREY KAYE: The election of a new president on July 2nd was an event many Mexicans compare to the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the first time in 71 years, an opposition presidential candidate defeated Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI. Vicente Fox was the candidate of Mexico's right of center National Action Party. In his two-and-a-half year long campaign, Fox, a rancher turned Coca Cola executive, turned state governor, confidently promised to conquer such deep-seated problems as corruption, poverty, and crime. "Cambio," Spanish for change, was the campaign's rallying cry. Now, as he prepares to take office, 100 million Mexicans -- most of whom live in poverty -- are waiting for him to deliver on his ambitious promises. Adviser Jorge Castañeda, who will be Fox's foreign secretary, says change will be the hallmark of Fox's six-year term.
JORGE CASTAÑEDA: We will no longer be seen abroad as the country of corruption, of drugs, of violence, of sombreros, of Tequila, but rather, as a country of culture, of hardworking people - which we are - of prosperity, of modernization, of democracy, of respect for human rights.
JEFFREY KAYE: Castañeda, a left-wing writer and political scientist, is part of a transition team which spans the ideological spectrum. Fox has cast himself as a pragmatist. Since the election, he has enlisted support from a cross-section of leaders ranging from business and labor officials to representatives of the nation's often-neglected indigenous communities.
VICENTE FOX: Our democracy will be incomplete while indigenous communities continue to be discriminated against and excluded.
JEFFREY KAYE: Many Mexicans are taking Fox's promises of dramatic change at face value, literally arriving on his doorstep to press their case. At his Mexico City transition offices, delegations of petitioners show up from across the nation.
ISMAELA ORTEGA: (speaking through interpreter) We have been in this situation for many years. The sugar workers are the most exploited, the ones who live in the most poverty.
JEFFREY KAYE: Sugar workers came 250 miles from the coastal state of Vera Cruz to complain about union corruption and poor wages.
ISMAELA ORTEGA: (speaking through interpreter) The majority of people who live in my village, who are fighting here, they live in a house like this. They want to have a home that is a little bit more dignified than this.
|The middle class response to Fox|
JEFFREY KAYE: Fox's strongest supporters, Mexico's middle class, also have their expectations. Owners of small and medium-size businesses were crucial to Fox's victory - people like Carlos Guzman, head of a soft drink company. Guzman supported Fox because of his business-friendly proposals to cut red tape, increase exports, and stimulate lending. For himself, Guzman wants Fox to open up soft drink markets at home and in Central America.
CARLOS GUZMAN: (speaking through interpreter) We think that Fox has good ideas. As a businessman we know him. He also knows what we are going through on the other side of the desk. He knows the problems of business. We have the hope, the businesspeople of Mexico, we have hope in Fox.
JEFFREY KAYE: While Fox will enter the presidential palace on December 1 with a mandate for change, perhaps the most significant change may have already happened -- the election of a president from an opposition party. Fox will face major challenges in actually implementing the reforms he promised in this tradition-bound country. Even Fox's advisers are cautioning Mexicans not to expect rapid reforms.
JORGE CASTAÑEDA: There will be dramatic change in the way Mexico is governed and in the way the Mexican people relate to their government, but over the entire administration, this is not going to happen overnight. I think the Mexican people know that the polls that the transition team has been carrying out show very clearly that people do not expect everything to change overnight.
JEFFREY KAYE: One of Fox's grandest promises, ending widespread corruption, is likely to be his most daunting task. Examples of official corruption are legion -- ranging from traffic cops on the take, to officials who have been tied to narcotics violence and trafficking, to a military accused by human rights groups of abuse of power in southern states where guerrilla groups have taken up arms. Reform of the police and justice system is such a tall order that many Mexicans are wondering aloud how much of a change the new president can actually make.
RAFAEL RUIZ: It's not more weapons; it's not more men.
JEFFREY KAYE: Criminologist Rafael Ruiz is a leading Mexican human rights activist.
JEFFREY KAYE: Should Mexicans expect dramatic change as far as cleaning up corruption is concerned?
RAFAEL RUIZ: No, I would not expect dramatic changes. Hopefully I expect some changes. But that's about all. Please do remember that in Mexico, corruption is institutionalized and it's systemic.
JEFFREY KAYE: So systemic that Ruiz and other Mexicans point to a culture of illegality. Mexico's off-the-books underground economy is thriving and not hard to find. On a major street in downtown Mexico City, sellers of pirated computer software operate under the noses of police.
JEFFREY KAYE: So this is, this is illegal, to sell this.
MAN ON STREET: Yes.
RAFAEL RUIZ: Mexicans, we unfortunately are in constant contact with corruption, and we would like to see Fox to be more forceful and more clear in what he wants to accomplish. If we are somehow suspicious and not as happy as we would like, it's because we don't see clearly what he wants to accomplish and how he's going to do it.
JEFFREY KAYE: That same kind of skepticism can be heard in some of Mexico's poorest areas. In the indigenous farming community of Santa Ines Yatzechi in the southern state of Oaxaca, Spanish is a foreign language to most people, who speak Zapotec, an Indian dialect.
(PEOPLE CONVERSING IN ZAPOTEC)
JEFFREY KAYE: Residents try to get by on subsistence farming, but desperation has forced half the population to flee to the united states in search of work. Farmer Marcelo Martinez, who expects his 16-year-old son will soon make the trek North, has heard similar campaign slogans in the past.
MARCELLO MARTINEZ, Farmer: (speaking through interpreter) Many political parties have come through here making promises, yet they don't accomplish anything. They say they are going to help the most vulnerable, yet they don't do it. (People chanting in Spanish)
JEFFREY KAYE: Fox will not only have to combat skepticism, there are several entrenched forces in Mexico likely to fight him if they feel their livelihood or clout is threatened. For the last several weeks, public employee unions demanding salary increases have staged demonstrations and put up roadblocks throughout the country. They promise similar actions if Fox makes cutbacks in his quest to streamline government.
LUZ MORENO: (speaking through interpreter) The only way they will listen to us is with an action such as this. We will wait until the government gets into power, but we have little confidence.
JEFFREY KAYE: Another potential obstacle, if not the largest, will come from competing political parties, particularly the PRI. Although the PRI's current fortunes are reflected in the stacked furniture in its headquarters lobby, from 1929 until the election of Fox, the PRI and the government were virtually indistinguishable. The PRI remains a formidable political presence. PRI governors rule in 18 of the nation's 31 states, and help determine how federal legislators vote in Mexico's congress. The PRI controls the largest bloc of votes, but falls short of a majority. If Fox is to turn much of his agenda into reality, he'll need to cut deals and broker alliances with opposition parties. Old-guard PRI legislators such as Gustavo Carvajal are staking out positions to the left of Fox.
GUSTAVO CARVAJAL: (speaking through interpreter) We are not going to allow the workers to lose the rights they possess -- and then the sale of state companies? We are in agreement that there should be greater domestic and foreign investment in state companies, yet we don't want them sold.
|Recasting an authoritarian image|
JEFFREY KAYE: PRI leaders are embarking on a program of reinvention as they embrace
reform and recast their party's authoritarian image. |
DIPOLA DE LOS ANGELES: Reconocemos por supuesto... (speaking through interpreter) We recognize, of course, that on our journey there have been errors made, deviations, and serious omissions, yet the PRI has always shown the capacity to rectify things.
JEFFREY KAYE: A rising star within the PRI is Jose Murat, governor of Oaxaca. For now and for public consumption, Murat is charitable towards the incoming president.
GOV. JOSE MURAT: (speaking through interpreter) Even if Vicente Fox does not belong to our political organization, if he works on behalf of Mexico and Oaxaca, we will be allies in that work.
JEFFREY KAYE: Murat is setting high standards for Fox. He says he wants generous support for Oaxaca from Mexico City.
GOV. JOSE MURAT: No tenemos impresa... (speaking through interpreter) We don't have business, we don't have factories, and we don't have business development sufficient enough to help ourselves. That is why investments from the federal government are so important.
JEFFREY KAYE: Murat expects a honeymoon period after Fox's inauguration, but as his gestures make clear, unless Fox delivers quickly, the current climate of political harmony is likely to pull apart. Poor areas of Mexico like Oaxaca will see change in the long term, promises Fox cabinet member Jorge Castañeda.
JORGE CASTAÑEDA: Much more investment in education-- better schools, better administered, reaching more people in the poor areas of the 500 townships in the state of Oaxaca; health, unifying the health-delivery systems; housing; and most important of all, employment.
JEFFREY KAYE: Fox's team is setting ambitious goals. In six years, they aim to take the people of Santa Ines Yatzechi, as well as millions of Mexicans, on a journey that in U.S. terms will transport them from the 19th to the 21st century.