Fox Quesada, Vicente (1942–)
Fox Quesada, Vicente (1942–)
The businessman and right-wing politician Vicente Fox served as Mexico's seventy-second president from December 1, 2000, to November 30, 2006. He ran for president with the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) and was able to establish an electoral democracy after more than seventy years of the authoritarian administrations of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) that had arisen during the Mexican Revolution.
Although he had been born in Mexico City on July 2, 1942, Fox had spent much of his adolescence and youth on the San Cristóbal ranch in the town of San Francisco de Rincón, in Guanajuato. His father, José Luis Fox Pont, was of German descent, born in Irapuato, Guanajuato, and his mother, Mercedes Quesada Etxaide, was born in San Sebastián, Spain.
His early years were spent doing fieldwork and in the family business. He received his primary education in religious schools and later studied business administration at the Iberoamerican University starting in 1960. There the Jesuits gave him "an excellent technical and academic, but above all, moral education," but he did not complete his thesis until 1999, in the middle of his presidential campaign (Fox, 1999, p. 19). In the early 1970s he earned a degree in upper management from Harvard.
From 1965 to 1979 Fox worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he rose in the ranks, beginning as a distributor with a soft-drink delivery truck and ultimately becoming the company's president for Latin America. There he became convinced of the need to bring a rational administrative and productive business approach to the government of Mexico. That is why some have accused him of "wanting to manage the country as if it were Coca-Cola" (Fox, 1999, p. 45). When he resigned from the company, he devoted himself to his farming business and the shoe business. Fox was married to Lilian de la Concha, an assistant at Coca-Cola, from 1971 to 1991 and adopted four children with her.
"LET'S DO SOMETHING NOW"
Before joining the National Action Party, aside from the tension that Fox, as a businessman working for a transnational company, had experienced with the nationalist presidents of the PRI, his only experience with politics had been social projects in business and Roman Catholic NGOs. This changed following a telephone call on November 3, 1987. "In Mexico we complain about the system, the dishonesty and the corruption, but we don't do anything to change it. Let's do something now," he told the Sinaloan businessman Manuel J. Clouthier, then a presidential candidate for the National Action Party, who brought many businessmen into the party (Fox, p. 57). These Neo-National Action Party members, such as Fox—also called the "northern barbarians"—were characterized by their desire to do away with the PRI administrations, which they saw as politically irresponsible and inefficient, although they had shared the PRI's neoliberal approach to economics in the 1980s.
Fox joined the National Action Party on March 1, 1988. In the elections that year, he was elected federal deputy and participated with Clouthier in the 1988 civil resistance movement against electoral fraud. In 1991 Fox ran for governor of Guanajuato but officially lost. However, the leaders of the National Action Party reached an agreement with PRI president Carlos Salinas de Gortari outside the election results; in exchange for installing an interim governor from the National Action Party, the PAN would support the PRI's legislative initiatives. After this interim period (1991–1995), Fox was elected governor of Guanajuato with 52 percent of the vote. He was a successful governor (1995–1999) and in 1997 began to plan his campaign for the presidency.
FROM THE "USEFUL VOTE" TO LESS-THAN-USEFUL PRESIDENTIAL TERM
Fox announced his candidacy for president in 1998 and kicked off an election campaign that many felt was a true, nonviolent war and ended in victory on July 2, 2000. Polls during the campaign revealed that the real fight would be between Francisco Labastida Ochoa of the PRI and Fox of the PAN. Like their personalities, Fox's and Labastida's platforms did not differ much. Fox capitalized on his persona as an open, sincere man from the countryside, who told each sector what it wanted to hear without getting caught in his own contradictions, running against a weak candidate and an old, corrupt party. Fox also used sophisticated marketing strategies to gain both the PAN vote and that of voters who did not sympathize with the PAN but believed he was the best choice and a "useful vote" and that the PRI had to be ousted in order to transition to democracy. Fox fed the nation's desire for change without defining precisely what he meant by change and won with 42.52 percent of the votes as compared to the PRI's 35.1 percent and the Left's 16.64 percent.
Fox's victory over the candidate of the party in power provoked great national and international enthusiasm and was even compared to the storming of the Bastille or the fall of the Berlin Wall, but expectations fell during his term in office. Fox was faced with a divided Congress in which no party had a majority. This prevented him from passing structural economic reforms. According to Fox himself, this was the reason why per capita gross domestic product grew a mere 0.7 percent and the unequal distribution of wealth held steady. In social policy, Fox continued the welfare programs of the PRI, reducing extreme poverty slightly. During his entire six-year administration, he demonstrated little ability to implement innovative programs to fight poverty or to lead social movements. This was made clear in the negotiations in 2001 with poor farmers of San Salvador Atenco to expropriate their lands in order to build a new airport for Mexico City. Popular uprisings ended the negotiations and the project was canceled. Another clear example was the repression, in 2006, of the People's Popular Assembly of Oaxaca, a coalition of professors and social movements in one of the nation's poorest states.
After a year in office, Fox married his former spokeswoman, Marta Sahagún Jiménez, on July 2, 2001. Within a few months, Sahagún's interference in public life and her interest in pursuing the presidency in 2006 added to continual scandals of corruption and tainted the political atmosphere. This was aggravated by instability within the cabinet and the PAN's loss of electoral strength in the by-elections of 2003. Fox then declared that he could "co-govern change" with the PRI.
His attempt to "co-govern" with Mexico's authoritarian party led to discretionary application of the law. While the corruption of individuals close to the president and of self-confessed PRI criminals was concealed, Fox used all resources at his command to try to strip Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist head of the Federal District government, of his political rights so that he would not compete in the elections of 2006.
Fox's foreign policy was characterized by alienation from Latin America—especially from Cuba, with which he was on the point of breaking off relations—and his fruitless turn toward the United States in order to obtain an agreement on immigration. He failed to achieve his goal, in part due not only to his lack of sensitivity toward the United States but also his lack of solidarity with his northern neighbor following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The elections for Fox's successor were especially turbulent. The president's office used resources and endorsed the intervention of the business class in the campaign to prevent the imminent victory of the leftist candidate. After a post-electoral period in which protests took place all over the nation, Fox handed over the presidency to Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, under suspicion of fraud among some of the electorate, on December 1, 2006. Afterward, in the style of former U.S. presidents, he announced that he would build, on land near his ranch, a study center, library, and museum devoted to assessing his term in office.
Davidow, Jeffrey. The Fox and the Porcupine: The U.S. and Mexico. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2007.
Fox, Vicente. A Los Pinos: Recuento autobiográfico y político. México, D.F.: Océano, 1999.
Human Rights Watch. Lost in Transition: Bold Ambitions, Limited Results for Human Rights under Fox. New York: Author, 2006.
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