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Column 100107 Wall

Monday, October 1, 2007


Fox Redefines the Role of Past Mexican Presidents


By Allan Wall


Vicente Fox stepped down as president of Mexico ten months ago, but he is not going away. For good or bad, the former president continues to be a frequent subject of the Mexican media.


Mexico has a long tradition of former presidents keeping a low profile.  It goes back to the 1930s, when President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940) had former president Plutarco Elias Calles escorted out of Mexico for attempting to control his presidency.


During the years of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) state, former presidents kept a very low profile and would often leave the country.


That’s not the case with Vicente Fox.


Fox had promised one year of silence after leaving the presidency. But considering Fox’s personality, and his habit of speaking his mind even when it wasn’t prudent, that might’ve been too much to ask.  Within a few days of Felipe Calderon having taken office, Fox was already talking to reporters.


Fox entered Mexican politics, and eventually became president, largely on the basis of his reputation as a “straight talker.”   His discourses were a breath of fresh air, especially in comparison to the vague and dull speeches of many PRI politicians.


The downside though, is that Fox often speaks without consideration of the consequences, and shoots himself in the foot.


Mexico-watcher Professor George Grayson has described Fox as “politically tone-deaf.”   


One glaring example was when he boasted about fellow PAN (National Action Party) candidate Calderon’s victory over PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) candidate AMLO (Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador).  In fact, Fox described it as a personal triumph for him over AMLO.


This was highly imprudent, given that Fox’s thinly-disguised campaigning in 2006 for Felipe Calderon was by Mexican standards a violation of protocol and a cause for bitterness in the post-election contention.  Fox was reprimanded for this behavior by the IFE (Federal Electoral Institute).  Now, as a former president, Fox was dredging it up again.


That didn’t help Calderon.


Be that as it may, Fox adamantly defends his right to publicly hold forth. The former president says, "There is no reason to hold to the anti-democratic rules of those who still live in the authoritarian past … now that Mexico is a democracy, every citizen has the right to express himself, even a former president.”


Certainly Fox has the “right” to express himself.  But the fact that one has a right to do something doesn’t mean it’s always prudent or constructive.


Vicente Fox has embarked on a worldwide career of delivering expensive speeches in various locations, and he has been hired by the same agency that handles the speechmaking careers of former U.S. president Bill Clinton, and rock star/social activist Paul Hewson, better known as Bono. 


Fox has already given speeches in Nigeria, Canada, and the U.S.A., holding forth on such topics as the Iraq War, the 2006 Mexican election, and of course, one of his favorites, Mexican emigration to the U.S.A.


Former president Vicente Fox has a recently-released book, Revolution of Hope: The Life, Faith and Dreams of a Mexican President. This book has already attracted attention for its criticisms of U.S. President George W. Bush.  


Certainly Bush is a favorite target for criticism worldwide, there’s nothing unusual about that, but given their relationship Fox’s criticisms come across as petty and ungrateful.


And as far as Fox calling Bush “The cockiest guy I have ever met in my life,” Bush and Fox are probably tied in that department.


Recently, too, there have been corruption accusations against Fox, resulting from an interview and photo feature in the Mexican magazine Quién (Who), which displayed photographs of the luxury of Fox’s ranch and home in Guanajuato.


However the photos themselves aren’t really very strong evidence.  After all, Fox wasn’t poor to begin with, and his earnings from his Coca-Cola executive years were substantial.  Of course, the accusations are politically-driven, coming as they do from opposition parties.


Still, was it wise for Fox to appear in Quién so soon after leaving office, with those photographs? Once again, it may demonstrate Fox’s “tone-deaf” problem.


Vicente Fox would be better served by concentrating on the construction of his Fox Center of Studies/Library/Museum.  It’s being built with private funds at his hometown in Guanajuato, modeled on the Bill Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.  It’s scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007 – the first American-style presidential library in Mexico.



Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.  He currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991. He can be reached via e-mail at allan39@prodigy.net.mx.