by José de la Isla
HOUSTON– Mexico’s former president Vicente Fox has a talent for drawing almost as much criticism out of office as when he was the incumbent
In July of last year, he was succeeded by Felipe Calderón, of his own center right National Action Party, PAN in Spanish. Fox is widely credited with advancing democracy and reforming Mexico’s economy by controlling inflation and lowering interest rates. But he left office with a trail of disappointments.
Since that time, Fox has followed in the tradition of former heads of state, such as George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, U.K.’s Tony Blair, and Spain’s José María Aznar. They have remained active and at times vocal.
However, Mexico has only tepid acceptance for its former presidents going public, certainly not by the old Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI in Spanish, that held power for 72 years, and now twice beaten for the presidency.
Political animosities die slowly and Fox’s antagonists seek to hang a personal enrichment jacket on him. Other allegations circulating include influence peddling by his stepchildren through his marriage to Marta Sahagún, and aspersions about Vámos México, the foundation they head. A commission has been authorized to investigate some of the allegations.
At the same time, Vicente Fox might be on the verge of taking an important place on the world stage. In late October he was elected co-president of Centrist Democrat International, the association of center-right parties around the world. He is also setting up a presidential library and think tank at his ranch. Throughout October, he has promoted In the United States his autobiographical book, “Revolution of Hope,” written with Rob Allyn.
While he was abroad last week, a group in Boca deL Río, Veracruz, toppled a statue of Fox before it was to be dedicated. When asked about it, Fox told me the people responsible for the “mischief,” were not average citizens but operatives of the state’s federal senator Fidel Herrera Beltrán. “He himself announced it,” Fox told me.
Herrera Beltrán, a PRI member, heads the Senate’s policy coordinating committee. More aftershocks were to follow. In Los Angeles, Fox walked out on Telemundo52 interviewer Rubén Luengas after uncomfortable questions about who owns certain properties in Guanajuato state near his ranch. Records appear to bear his wife Marta Sahagún’s name.
Then in San Jose, Calif., speaking at a downtown hotel, Fox drew a small protest across the street at the Plaza de César Chávez.
At a press conference, Fox claimed Herrera Beltrán was behind the anti-Fox campaign in Mexico, and alluded to the senator’s presidential aspirations. Just to make sure the mud stuck, Fox said Herrera “has a Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA, record related to narcotrafficking.”
Herrera called Fox’s 1charge a smoke screen, to distract public opinion from Fox’s administration corruption. The issue, he told El Universal, a Mexico City daily, was a recycled 10-year-old matter found to be a complete lie.
Víctor Valencia de los Santos, who heads the commission inquiring into the Fox administration, called the whole matter “a rude strategic distraction.”
The issues and name-calling heated up after Quién magazine published photos of the Fox’s homestead, Rancho Cristóbal. Questions immediately arose about whether government funds contributed to the renovations.
“It is evident he got rich during his six years in office,” Lino Korrodi, a former Fox campaign finance manager, told El Universal. Now a critic, Korrodi says Fox didn’t have the kind of money to renovate the ranch during his presidency.
Either legitimate charges are made before the appropriate tribunals or let historians argue over the details.
The danger of failing to let Fox become an elder statesman is that a cynical North American public can further lose confidence in Mexico’s emerging democracy and economy. Stereotypes, in matters such as this, are easier to come by than the facts.
Already, public opinion is making life-after-the-presidency read like a soap opera, a telecomedia. Ex-presidents have a lot to offer still. They do. Really they do.
[José de la Isla, author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power” (Archer Books, 2003) writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org].© 2007