Sergio Aguayo
"Mexico at the Crossroads:
An Evaluation of the Fox Administration"

April 16, 2002

RealAudio recording of the talk
(warning: large file - 10 mb)

Claudine LoMonaco, Graduate School of Journalism

Mexico's President Vicente Fox came into office almost eighteen months ago with a sweeping mandate for change. But the most visible change thus far, according to Sergio Aguayo, has been in his approval ratings, which have plummeted from 70 to 46 percent.

"There was a growing disenchantment for what he did not do," said Aguayo, Professor of International Relations at El Colegio de México and founding member of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights. During the first year of his presidency, Fox failed in his promises to combat corruption, dismantle Mexico's oppressive security apparatus, and aggressively defend human rights, Aguayo explained in his talk, "Mexico at a Crossroads: An Evaluation of the Fox Administration," on April 18.

Sergio Aguayo, offering an evaluation of the Fox Administration's performance during its first months in power in Mexico.

Over the last two decades, the soft-spoken Aguayo has been one of the key intellectuals driving Mexico's transition to democracy. In 1991, he helped found Alianza Civica, the civil rights organization that has mobilized thousands of volunteers and international observers to help insure free and fair elections in Mexico. He also served as a mediator between Fox and the center-left candidate Cuahtemoc Cardenas in an unsuccessful attempt to form an alliance to unseat the PRI during the 2000 campaign. His talk was part of the U.S. and Mexico: Redefining the Relationship series sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies.

Aguayo attributes Fox's failure largely to a policy of appeasement. Once he realized the residual strength of the PRI, which maintained a significant presence in congress and several governorships, party advisors cautioned Fox against antagonizing the PRI. "Fox shifted from criticizing the old regime to praising the old regime" nearly over night, Aguayo said, hoping to gain its support.

The plan backfired. "They were working under the assumption," he explained, "that the PRI was going to give the votes the president needed for fiscal reform. They were never going to do that because they didn't want Vicente Fox to succeed. That's politics."

The events of 9/11 and the subsequent economic slowdown, as well as administrative mismanagement, also played a role in Fox's inability to deliver, Aguayo said.

But so did Fox's character.

"I am of the opinion that he is a decent, honest human being," said Aguayo, a center-leftist who turned down an offer to serve in the Fox cabinet, in part because of disagreements with the president's economic policies. "But he was not psychologically prepared to implement the change of regime that the county needed. It was as if for the psychoanalyst, he was incapable of taking the symbolic step of assassination of the father."

One such casualty of the appeasement policy was a proposed truth commission. The commission, designed in part by Aguayo at Fox's request, was to look into both corruption and human rights abuses, including the disappeared of Mexico's "Dirty War," as well as the massacres at Acteal and Aguas Blancas. While Fox promised to form the commission within a week of its proposal in June, he took no action until after the death of human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa in October, when he formed a special attorney general's office for human rights. The truth commission idea, however, was scrapped.

"The PRI resisted any search in the past because they knew that they would end, perhaps not in jail, but indicted in the eyes of public and international opinion," Aguayo said.

Another result has been a reconsolidation of the PRI, exemplified in the election of Roberto Madrazo as the party's new president. Madrazo represents "the worst of Mexican politics," including large-scale, rampant corruption, Aguayo said. Instead of going after Madrazo, Fox allowed him and the party to regroup, opening up the possibility that the PRI could regain the presidency in 2006.

Faced with failure to pass his reforms at home, Fox found refuge in traveling abroad. Under the aegis of his brilliant and controversial foreign minister Jorge Casteņeda, Fox spent one-third of his first 10 months in office out of the country, forging a more active international role for Mexico, as well as a new relationship with the United States. "His trips abroad became a success," Aguayo said, "and his stay in Mexico became a nightmare- a pesadilla."

Since the end of Fox's first year, the President has changed course somewhat. On the human rights front, he freed General Jose Francisco Gallardo, an Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience," as well as Guerrero peasant environmental activists Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera. He also had his first real success against Mexico's drug trade with the breaking up the Arellano Felix drug cartel. And in a marked break with his appeasement policy, he has opened up high-level corruption investigations. The most potentially damaging involves the illegal channeling of $100 million from the oil workers' union to PRI presidential candidate Francisco Labastida, a case that could implicate both Labastida and former president Ernesto Zedillo.

The PRI has already begun to fight back, winning a recent vote to deny the president permission to travel to United States, partially as payback for the corruption investigations, as well as for Fox's stance on Cuba.

"It is too soon to say," Aguayo said, "if he will ever recover the momentum that he had in December 2000."

What Aguayo is certain of is that Fox "already has his place in history as the man who kicked the PRI out of Los Pinos."

"There is no doubt that he is different," Aguayo continued. "He's a democratic president. Even with all his mistakes, he tolerates criticism, he accepts the rules of the game." And that is far better than any president Mexicans have had in the past.


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