Interview With Mexican President Vicente Fox

March 21, 2001 -- The election last July of Mexican President Vicente Fox ended 70 years of one-party rule in Mexico. In Mexico and in the United States, people are looking to him to make changes. Peter Jennings visited Fox last weekend at his ranch in the central state of Guanajuato. Below are excerpts from the interview.

First 100 Days

Jennings: My first impression, having watched your Saturday radio program is how different it is from President Bush, and before him President Clinton; and secondly that you really seem to enjoy the power and the reach of the media. Is that right?

Fox: No doubt I enjoy being close to people in the way I dress, the way I speak, and the way I communicate with people. To me governing is communicating. That facilitates the whole job because I can listen, I can hear what people have to say, and at the same time I can let them know what are we working on, what is our strategic line, and where are we going.

Jennings: So that's the communication. In terms of governing, you've just had 100 days. How has it been? How tough?

Fox: Well, I think it's been great. I don't change my job for any other. I'm really enjoying it. And fortunately we are keeping ourselves together with people, because I have on the polls 85 percent support of people, to the programs, and to government. This is unusual in Mexico, so we're keeping the spirit of July 2 [when Fox was elected president] with us.

The Drug Trade

Jennings: I want to talk to you about Mexico and the United States, and watching you hear in the garden, I'm struck by the fact that when Mr. Bush came here to see you, it was something of a lost opportunity for Mexico because he was here and they bombed Iraq, and some people said on that day you were actually annoyed somewhat, that the focus had gone elsewhere. Was that day something of a lost opportunity for Mexico?

Fox: No, I don't think so. Of course it affected uh... news-wise, but the content of the meeting was excellent. For the first time I heard a president saying for instance, in the case of drugs, that part of the problem, the main part of the problem, is drug consumption in the United States.

And it is true. Because that is what generates these billions of dollars that are used to corrupt Mexican officials and Mexican policemen. And so we decided to work on a team effort in the case of drug trafficking and let behind the unilateral certification procedure and change into a multilateral commitment, to work coordinated, and really meet organized crime, in the international arena.

Jennings: You brought up drugs even sooner than I would have, but now that you have... Recent interviews with you that I've read, seem to be aggressively suggesting that this is a Mexican problem, and I wonder if you, like a lot of other Mexicans, don't think this is rather hypocritical of Americans that you think this is an American problem?

Fox: No, it is an international problem. It is a common problem, not only in the United States and Mexico. Colombia has a lot to do with this, Central America, the Caribbean. Because when we caught the traffic of drugs within Mexico, then they move to the Caribbean, or they move to the Pacific. So we must organize ourselves to meet organized crime in the international arena; otherwise they will always have the advantage, because they don't recognize borders?

Jennings: But you know as well as I do, Sir, you know better than I do, Sir, that the consumption problem in the United States puts an enormous burden on Mexico. Do you think the United States does enough about its own problem?

Fox: Well, no, and this is why I think that we have to have clear objectives, clearer strategies, and firm commitments to each one of us, and that, besides that unilateral certification, that we have an independent certification to what we're doing, each of us, in the case of drugs.

The main problem of the consumption in United States is the money it generates, because just a month ago we caught one Mexican policeman that was paying half a million dollars cash to his boss, for keeping his job. Imagine the business he was prepared to do if he's willing to invest half a million dollars to just to keep his job.

And this is the main problem: we're not going to be able, ever, to compete against organized crime, money to money, dollar to dollar. We need to equip our policemen with values, with ethical code of behavior, and with respect to citizens. And this is why it takes long to develop this kind of policeman, that is not willing to accept $100,000 dollars or half a million dollars.

Jennings: But how much more must the United States do about its consumption problem so that the burden of criminality and drugs is lifted to some extent on Mexico?

Fox: Well what we can do is join forces, [from] the beginning of the chain, which is producing the drug. Right there we must work together coordinated, then we must work very intensely on the border. Because how can you explain this tons... thousands of tons of drugs coming into United States every year? There must be corruption there also in the U.S. side; there must be a way how these traffickers can go through U.S. Customs or U.S. officials or whatever; so we must work together also on the border.

And finally, we must work together a coordinated program trying to avoid drug consumption. Because what is happening is, when we are successful in holding drugs not to go into the United States, what they are doing, the criminals, they're sampling drugs to the youth in Mexico at very low prices, trying to build up a market. So the problem is common: if the United States has consumption because of the billions of dollars that it generates and are used to corrupt, and if the United States is successful in decreasing consumption, then we get the promotion here and now our kids suffer the consequences.

Jennings: So you don't agree with all those Mexicans who say that the United States is hypocritical, that it really has a drug problem, Mexico doesn't have a drug problem and that you're paying for it?

Fox: No, I do not blame anybody. I think it's a common problem, and intelligent people take challenges with a coordinated effort. And this is something where President Bush and I are very much alike. Not only the boots we wear, not only the hats we wear, not only our origin of being from rural areas, but that both of us like to see things happen; and this is what I like the most about Bush; that he and I decided that personally, both presidents will make sure that things happen now in this new strategy that we're going to follow on drugs.

And we're going to personally supervise twice a year, how the FBI., the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Mexican Army, the Mexican Procuraduría (Attorney General's Office), or the Mexican policemen... how are we doing? And we're going to make sure that things happen this time.

Equal Partners

Jennings: When I was getting on the plane last night I picked one of these little cards up: "Tips if you're going to Mexico. Cultural awareness tips. Among them: recognize that Mexico is part of North America." Now, that a tourist or visitor to Mexico should be taught that must make you feel maybe just a little angry.

Fox: Well, yes and no. If you talk about culture you're talking about sovereignty, yes, but on the other hand, we are partners, we are partners in NAFTA and my proposal to the United States is to further deepen that partnership.

Jennings: But, Mr. President, excuse my interruption, but this speaks of the fact that Americans, if they think about Mexico at all, they think about illegal drugs, illegal immigrants, and corruption. For a nation with as much history as this, that must on occasion drive you nuts.

Fox: (Laughs) First, to begin with, Mexico is North American, the one that is using wrong the term is United States. United States is not North America. North America is Mexico, United States, and Canada. And number two, as I said, my dream, my aspiration would be top have a common interest to have a common future to become, in the long term, an economic community with the same interest, the three countries; and we're working hard on that conversion, as

trying to meet the challenge of being not only neighbors and friends, but also being partners: partners in equal terms.

Immigrant Workers

Jennings: Do you think the United States is at all hypocritical about the illegal immigrants? The United States condemns illegal Mexican immigrants to the United States, and needs them, in some cases, quit desperately. The construction industry in Texas, agricultural in California...

Fox: It is. It is a little bit. And this is something that in recent times is changing, and changing rapidly. I've been speaking to congressmen, I've been speaking to senators, and of course I've been speaking with President Bush on this subject. And today? the way we look at it is totally different. I've been hearing a lot of very, very positive comments from senators...

Jennings: But you're not hearing, Sir, that the United States is prepared to have open borders.

Fox: Not that far, on the short term; but we have discussed how we can make sure that any Mexican worker in the United States is recognized legally working in United States, and it's contributing to the wealth of the United States, and to the growth of the product in the United States. Not necessarily the idea is that all Mexicans should become American citizens, and that's where we should draw the line. What Mexicans want and aspire to, is to go there and work temporarily and raise some money and come back home. That's what they want, so nobody's asking for those two, three million Mexicans that are illegally in the United States to become American citizens.

What we are asking is that they're recognized legally working there because the United States needs them. They're doing a job as productive and of the quality as anybody else in the United States, and on the contrary they're being taken away, part of their salaries, they're not being recognized of their fringe benefits, and they have to be hiding away all the time. That's unfair, totally unfair. They should be recognized legally there.

Open Border

Jennings: Do you believe, Mr. President, that Americans cringe at the idea of open borders with Mexico?

Fox: Any new idea, it always frightens people. Yes, I can imagine that American citizen, sitting in front of his TV, having his nice beer after he worked all day, watching President Fox saying that borders should be open. I mean, he might get a heart attack.

But if we really think about it, the only way the US economy can grow at five percent is by the work of immigrants.

Number two: that American citizen can be sitting there watching his TV and drinking his beer because other Mexicans are working out on the fields, a job that Americans don't want anymore, or is cleaning up the, the bathroom, or is a janitor, or is doing the kind of work that United States citizens don't want to do anymore.

Number three: the United States is right now retiring. It's baby-boom generation; which is 60 or 70 years old, and Mexico is welcoming its boom generation, which is 18 years old. Here is where we can complement. The United States will need this next 10, 15 years the youth, the talent, the energy of these Mexican workers. And this youth generation of Mexicans need to invest their energy and talent somewhere working. The United States will become a winner, Mexico will be a winner, and everybody will end up winning if we really think about the future with intelligence.