For Mexico's Fox, a 'Revolution' Unfulfilled

Vicente Fox
Vicente Fox, center, accompanied by his daughter Paulina, left, and his son, Rodrigo, right, waves to the crowd en route to the National Palace following the inauguration ceremony at the National Congress in Mexico City, Friday, Dec. 1, 2000. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) (Jose Luis Magana - AP)

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By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 27, 2005

MEXICO CITY -- Five years after his historic election on July 2, 2000, as President Vicente Fox enters the twilight of his term and the nation moves toward elections next year in which he is not eligible to run, even his critics say he has made government more honest and transparent, fortified the economy and championed democracy.

But the idea of Fox as a revolutionary, a powerful figure who would energize and modernize a nation long strangled by corrupt and authoritarian government, has died. And many of his closest advisers say that despite his image, Fox succumbed far earlier than anyone realized, and sooner than they wanted to admit at the time.

Several advisers said that within weeks of the election, major problems emerged, including Fox's distaste for confrontation and his rejection of get-tough politics with the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven decades until Fox became president. In addition, he was nearly paralyzed by concern that adversaries, if provoked, could destabilize the economy with strikes or protests.

Within a year, the advisers said, the bold promise of his administration had all but evaporated.

"The Fox revolution died in the transition," said Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, a key aide to Fox and architect of his presidential campaign, referring to the five months between his election and inauguration.

One exchange offered a glimpse of why Fox's promised revolution -- to slash crime, create millions of jobs and supercharge the economy by reforming antiquated tax, labor and energy laws -- never got off the ground, key aides and outside observers said.

In June 2001, six months after Fox took office, a group of his closest aides requested an emergency meeting at his ranch. They feared that his promised "revolution of the 21st century," along with his presidency, was sinking.

"You are not doing the job; you are deserting us," said Aguilar Zinser, who later served as Mexico's ambassador to the United Nations until Fox dismissed him for his criticism of U.S. policies.

The aides told Fox he was being too soft on the PRI, which was now strangling his key reforms in Congress. They told him it was time to play hardball, and they proposed a plan: scrutinize the finances of 100 PRI officials and threaten to expose their corruption.

"Let's give them options: leave the country or go to jail," Aguilar Zinser recounted in an interview before his death in a traffic accident earlier this month.

The president shook his head.

"I am not God," Fox said, according to Jorge G. Castañeda, a former top aide and foreign minister. "Who am I to draw up that list?"

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