TFF logoFORUMS Meeting Point

Vicente Fox and Mexico's

Transition to Democracy



By Rocio Campos

Program Associate, International Budget Project of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington

Rocio Campos, herself a Mexican, is a TFF Peace Antenna, see other articles by her.

January 2001



A new formula and breaking with protocols

The electoral triumph of Vicente Fox is perhaps the greatest sign of Mexico's healthy transition towards democracy. It is also a breakthrough in the political tradition that has governed the modern era of the country after the Mexican Revolution. Vicente Fox started his political career with the PAN - Party of National Action - but he won the presidential election also representing a wing of opposition parties that joined efforts in the historical struggle to defeat the PRI - Institutional Revolutionary Party. Mexico not only has a new President, but a President born from new formulas.

Breaking with protocols might be part of Vicente Fox's political marketing strategy. The first unmarried President, divorced with four adopted children, wearing rancher boots and owner of a body language quite different from the "Chicago boy style" of technocrat political elites. As former president of Coca-Cola Company for Mexico and Latin America he knows the importance of images and the impact these have on how people perceive a product. Although some of his actions have been steadily criticized, particularly by members of the PRI, they have already been successfully translated into signs of hope and optimism to a vast majority of Mexicans that voted for him last July 2, 2000 and finished with 71 years of PRI rule.

Fox started his first day in office having breakfast with homeless children from the streets of Tepito, a very poor neighborhood in Mexico, City. Inviting these youngsters for breakfast was one of the many promises he made during his campaign and he did not forget. During his campaign another group of street-children told him they wanted to work, but that nobody would employ them. When Fox asked them what kind of work they wanted to do, they said they wanted to work at a bakery. Today the kids have their bakery and have promised to work and stop consuming drugs in the streets.

Protocols have been broken many times in the name of impunity and corruption, so whether or not Fox's style and actions are part of a political marketing strategy, why not break protocols in the name of hope, democracy, social justice and peace?



The admission of international observers into the country and the withdrawal of Mexican Army troops from different checkpoints in Chiapas have been unexpected actions taken by the new government leading to favorable responses. Subcomandante Marcos, for instance, accepted to resume negotiations for peace. However, the end of the Chiapas conflict is not only up to Marcos and Fox. Although they may soon agree on the rights of indigenous communities, they still have to face the PRI majority in Congress in order to ratify any legislation for indigenous rights.


Welfare, not only growth

If Fox is the masculine version of an Eva Perón character giving people a sense of protection and hope, long time ago forgotten in Mexico, it should also translate into tangible, more substantial improvement of living conditions and infrastructure. So far we haven't heard "mission impossible" promises about vanishing the external debt or stepping into the first world tomorrow. The prospects are much more realistic aiming at a sustainable economic growth of 7% a year by 2006, with inflation falling to 3% by 2003 and a balanced budget by 2004 [1]. The election apparently confirmed the stability of the Mexican Peso and this January 2001 no devaluation was announced as has repeatedly occurred in the past. However, the peso at 9.4 two weeks ago has already reached 9.9 pesos/USD. Hopefully, national and international credibility in Fox's administration will assist to keep the banks at ease, international investment flowing and stable interest rates that won't shatter Fox's modernizing strategies.


Neo-liberalism not without its problems

However, we should be aware that modernization, as Fox understands it, does involve a dose of neoliberalism. The possibility of privatizing the electrical sector and promoting the liberalization of labor and trade union laws to give pension funds greater freedom to invest are important issues to debate. These actions should not come to us as a surprise from Fox the entrepreneur, but what about Fox the rancher, the man who adopted four children and believes in overcoming marginalization? What kind of subsidies will balance out the unemployment derived from privatization? Will there be additional welfare benefits to soften the impact of extending Mexico's 15% value-added tax to previously exempt items, such as food and medicine? [2] After Carlos Salinas' administration, six years of experiencing NAFTA - North American Free-Trade Agreement - being a developing country, and listening to the voices of the invisible through Marcos' communiqués, Mexico is less credulous than yesterday and will be very cautious about anything that smells neoliberal.


Hopes in responsibility and transparency - on the road to global democracy

My hope for all Mexicans is that we realize that Fox is not Santa Fox that he is not going to erase all the bad done in the past. Despite the excitement of having had overthrown the PRI, Mexico's transition to democracy will not be fulfilled until democracy is exercised beyond the electoral arena. Mexicans have the civil responsibility to demand accountability and transparency and express their opinions through appropriate plebiscites regarding important matters such as the possible privatization of PEMEX - Petroleos Mexicanos - Mexico's Oil Company.

My hope for the rest of world is to share Mexico's transition to democracy and realize that this time the lessons are not coming from the world's super-power. What would the United States have done if the electoral struggle we all witnessed between Bush and Gore had taken place somewhere in Central America or Eastern Europe? Let us pay attention to all the international actors that are breaking protocols and assess if they are being broken for good.



[1] See "The Fox experiment begins" in The Economist, Dec 2nd, 2000, pp. 37-38.

[2] See Geri Smith and Elisabeth Malkin, "Vicente Fox may be Setting Himself up for a Fall" in Business Week, Dec 4, 2000, p.60.



© TFF & the author 2001  


Tell a friend about this article

Send to:


Message and your name











The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512   E-mail:

Contact the Webmaster at:
© TFF 1997-2001