Part 12: Analysis -- Fox's political paradox : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Part 12: Analysis -- Fox's political paradox Tuesday, 4 September 2001 10:47 (ET)

Part 12: Analysis -- Fox's political paradox By IAN CAMPBELL, UPI Economics Correspondent

QUERETARO, Mexico (UPI) -- Ted Conover, an American writer, describes in his excellent "Coyotes," published in 1987, how he joined Mexicans who were seeking to enter the United States illegally. What may surprise the reader is that it was not just on the U.S. side but also on the Mexican one that the illegal immigrants feared trouble.

And they got it: Conover's group is caught by the Mexican police, taken to the police station and interrogated. Some of them are robbed, abused and beaten.

Conover witnesses all this but escapes harsh treatment himself, he believes, because the policemen see he is a "gringo" and fear that mistreating him may have consequences.

What were the motives of the policemen? They were part of a state with repressive inclinations that believed in intimidation. The government of the time tended to see its emigrants in some sense as deserters: Mexicans who abandoned their own country for a richer one and one with which relations were, if not hostile, at least prickly. The United States, after all, had taken half of Mexico's territory: that had not been forgotten. On their return, therefore, migrants might again expect difficulties with the Mexican government's authorities and the police. In entering the United States illegally, they had turned themselves into criminals who were ripe for bullying.

This approach to the emigrants was a perverse one because their contribution to the Mexican economy was thoroughly positive. Just by leaving, the migrants reduced the permanent pool of surplus unskilled labor in Mexico. Their remittances home were and remain an important source of income and foreign currency. And on their return home they brought new skills -- and new attitudes: perhaps that was what displeased the long-dominant Partido Revolucionario Institucional.

The approach of President Vicente Fox, the first non-PRI president in seven decades, elected in July 2000 and in office now for nine months, has been utterly different to that of his predecessors. In his election campaign, he emphasized that Mexican migrants to the United States should be treated well there and in their home country. In his first months in office he has kept the migration issue in the spotlight. It is one area in which he has made progress, in part because of his good relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Fox has applied pressure for better treatment of the migrants. He appointed Juan Hernandez, a little-known Mexican poet who had been working at the University of Texas, as his head of a new Office for Mexicans Living Abroad. He applied pressure for U.S. banks to cut the extortionate fees they had demanded previously from Mexican illegals who were seeking to remit money home; and the fees have been reduced. He has put to the U.S. government a possible guest-worker program that would permit some Mexicans to enjoy legal status in the United States while they work there. There is also talk of a possible amnesty for the 4 million or so illegal Mexicans already in the United States.

Fox has pursued his migrant agenda with success. But why is it so important to him? There would seem to be many reasons. In the first place, the attitude of Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, to the United States differs radically from that of his predecessors. For Fox the businessman, the United States is his best customer. The better the relationship with his best customer the better it will be for him.

The North American Free Trade Agreement has been in place since 1994. It has helped Mexico to advance, politically as well as economically. Free and fair elections and Fox's emergence as president can be seen in part as products of the NAFTA. But Fox has more in mind: open borders for goods and labor among Canada, the United States and Mexico in 25 to 30 years' time.

It is no coincidence that Fox has discussed development with Spanish economists and politicians. From deepening of the NAFTA relationship he sees a possibility of the sort of rapid social, economic and political development that Spain and Portugal have enjoyed as a result of their membership of the European Union. It is a grand and long-term vision.

Short-term, Fox may also stand to gain politically by differentiating himself in Mexicans' eyes from his PRI predecessors. He has been seeking to demonstrate he is different in his handling of other problems as well. For example, he has sought, unsuccessfully so far, to win over and integrate the long ill-treated indigenous community, and to reduce tension in the troubled southern state of Chiapas, where repression has undoubtedly been a major contributor to the emergence in 1994 of the rebel movement, the Zapatista national Liberation Army. In short, Fox is seeking to be a new type of Mexican president, more humane and concerned about the rights of all Mexicans, within its borders and even beyond them.

Yet Fox's focus on migration also holds dangers for him. Though Bush, keen himself to be an embracing president, in his case of the U.S. Hispanic community, is willing to talk to Fox, what Bush can offer in the end may be modest. The problem for Bush is that he inherits a slowing economy in which unemployment is rising. Moreover, there is no certainty the slowdown will be as brief or as shallow as Bush devoutly wishes. In short, this is not the best time for Bush to be opening up the United States to substantial new inflows of Mexican labor.

In addition, were access unobstructed, the number of Mexicans who would cross the border would be in the millions. The gulf in wages and living standards between the United States and Mexico is vast, much greater than existed between, say, Spain and France. In short, Fox may make headway in asserting the rights of Mexican emigrants but he is unlikely to be able to facilitate the passage of many of them north.

To improve the lot of his fellow countrymen, Fox needs progress within his own country: more rapid growth and development, so as to create more and better-paid jobs for more Mexicans. In this regard, he has been less successful than in his efforts on migration. Fox's accession has not led to a new wave of investment. State-run Pemex, infamous for its inefficiency, maintains its near monopoly of oil and gasoline. CFE, the electricity company, maintains its near monopoly of electricity. Mexican gross domestic product growth dropped to zero in the second quarter.

These are problems perceived by the majority of Mexicans. Helping the minority who live overseas illegally is not going to make Fox popular. To do that he needs to give more Mexicans less reason to leave.

-- Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 09, 2001

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