Former President Vicente Fox – Champion of Democratic Values

Vicente Fox, 66, governed Mexico from 2000 to 2006. His term was marked by low inflation and prudent fiscal oversight,
Vicente Fox, 66, governed Mexico from 2000 to 2006. His term was marked by low inflation and prudent fiscal oversight,
SAN CRISTOBAL, Mexico – Eighteen months after leaving office, former President Vicente Fox is taking a page from Jimmy Carter’s playbook and engineering his legacy as a champion of democratic values and government transparency at home and abroad.

In a wide-ranging interview at his ranch near historic Guanajuato, Fox discussed his new projects and chided the United States for abdicating its role as global leader, questioned presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s position on free trade and dismissed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as “a loudmouth.”

The United States no longer initiates ambitious projects such as the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II or former President John Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, which spurred economic cooperation in the hemisphere, said Fox, a strong U.S. supporter.

“We don’t see this happening anymore,” Fox told The Miami Herald. “We see walls being built. What is the U.S. afraid of?”

Through his work at his new center, Centro Fox, the man who ousted the party that had ruled Mexico for 72 years plans to push global and personal leadership, democracy, free markets and immigration. Centro Fox, a sprawling complex partially inspired by the Carter Center, will offer educational programs on democracy and government. It will also include art galleries and an interactive library containing the records of his administration.

“We are putting together a network so that through educational programs, masters, seminars and workshops, we help people to discover their leadership. We are all leaders. We just need to know ourselves and exercise that leadership within,” Fox said.

The other major challenge he has taken on is the presidency of the Centrist Democrat International, a global coalition of 110 Christian Democrat parties.

Fox’s efforts are part of a new trend for former Latin American presidents, said Peter Hakim, president of the Inter American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank.

“I keep hearing that the problem with Latin America is that we have no ex-presidents,” Hakim said. “Nobody whose real interest is not partisan or ideological. Somebody who has the country in mind.”

The value of former presidents like Fox, he said, is that “they can help influence the agenda” and mobilize support.

Fox, 66, governed Mexico from 2000 to 2006. His term was marked by low inflation and prudent fiscal oversight, although Fox remained unable to fulfill his campaign promises of economic growth. His term was also characterized by a strained relationship with Congress.

An ardent proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, Fox denounces the wall the U.S. is building along the Mexican border.

“This confusion of a migrant with a terrorist is terrible. Mexican migrants are very productive, very loyal to the U.S. They deserve better consideration,” he said.

“The U.S. cannot isolate itself. They can build that wall, and let’s suppose that they don’t get Mexico’s imports. Well, they don’t get Mexico’s purchases,” worth about $136 billion in 2007.

He takes issue with Obama’s refusal to embrace free trade, saying the Illinois senator who will accept his party’s presidential nomination next Thursday would build an “economic wall” between the two countries.

“He is totally wrong on that,” Fox said.

He cited Obama’s often-told story about an Illinois Maytag plant worker who did not get needed surgery and died after it was announced that the plant was closing because it was unable to compete.

“That’s populism. What Maytag was facing was closing the company. They decided to reopen and move to Mexico. They have been extremely successful here,” he said. “They create jobs here and people will not migrate. They also re-created new jobs in the U.S., in marketing, customer service, product design and engineering.”

As president of the Centrist Democrats International, Fox is supporting Cuban and Venezuelan opposition parties. He said it is the most effective way to promote democracy in these countries and ultimately defeat Chavez.

He called Chavez a “loudmouth intent on derailing a plan for development for Venezuela.”

In Venezuela, Fox says the CDI is supporting student leader Jon Goycochea against Chavez’s “demagoguery.” Through the CDI, Fox says he is working with Cuban opposition leaders Osvaldo Paya and Marcelino Miyares to develop strategies for a successful transition to democracy on the island.

Meanwhile, Fox’s own country is facing a crisis due to the escalation of crime and drug trafficking.

President Felipe Calderon reacted by involving the army in the war. To date, he has dispatched over 30,000 soldiers and federal police to fight the cartels, according to press reports.

Still, violence has reached record levels. Homicides fueled by drug cartels in Juarez alone rose to 560 in July, compared to 304 for all of 2007.

“Things are tough in Mexico,” Fox said. “We are in the middle of a war now.”

Fox disagreed with Calderon’s decision to involve the army in the fight against drug trafficking, but he acknowledges that it “is probably the most trusted” armed organization in the country.

“I would have used other strategies,” he said. “But now we are in, now we have to win the war.”

Calderon now plans to double the size of the federal police in order to reduce the role of the military in combating drug trafficking.

Winning the war for Fox means accepting U.S. support, but not the presence of the U.S. military on Mexican soil.

“No Mexican would like to see any police or any U.S. soldier on this land. If when we talk about support we mean joint investment in facing crime, joining strategies, sharing information, that kind of activity is more than welcome,” he said.

He hopes that U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies can learn to trust each other because there is no other viable alternative.

“The issue of drugs is not a Mexican problem,” he said. “It’s a problem of the U.S., it’s a problem of Mexico and it’s a problem of Colombia.”