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Book World: Vicente Fox's 'Revolution of Hope'

As his six-year term nears its end, Vicente Fox is widely credited with important accomplishments: making government operations more transparent, presiding over a stable economy, promoting democracy and jailing drug dealers.
As his six-year term nears its end, Vicente Fox is widely credited with important accomplishments: making government operations more transparent, presiding over a stable economy, promoting democracy and jailing drug dealers.

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Vicente Fox
Former President of Mexico
Tuesday, November 6, 2007; 9:00 AM

Relations between the United States and Mexico have long been poisoned by the problems of cross-border migration. ... Fox's book, Revolution of Hope, written in English and launched with a U.S. tour, makes a direct plea to the American people to see Mexican immigrants in a kinder light. He wants us to have patience with Mexico's fledgling efforts at political and economic reform, and to seek common solutions rather than building walls. His tone is often hyperbolic, but his message is heartfelt. Review: Revolution of Hope (Post, Nov. 4)

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Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, was online Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 9 a.m. ET to discuss his new book, "Revolution of Hope: The Life, Faith, and Dreams of A Mexican President," U.S.-Mexican relations and more.

The transcript follows.

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Vicente Fox: Good morning, I am happy to be here. We just released "Revolution of Hope," which deals with many of your questions, which I am very happy to answer at this time.

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Alexandria, Va.: How long would it take for Mexico to have some kind of sociopolitical revolution if it wasn't able to export poverty and problems into sovereign states on its borders?

Vicente Fox: Mexico is working hard to bring opportunities to all of our people, who we need in Mexico. We need their talent, so that Mexico can build a better future. Mexico has a solid, reliable economy. Mexico has an unemployment rate of less than 4 percent. Finally, Mexico's rate of population growth is down to less than 1 percent, which makes it feasible to meet the future demands of our people.

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Chiapas, Mexico: President Fox: I have lived in Chiapas, Mexico, as an American teaching English for the past four years. I especially admire you for standing up to George Bush when he demanded Mexico's support of the Iraq war. I am ashamed of how some Americans have used the immigration issue as their launching pad for racism. When I first arrived in Chiapas, people were a lot more friendly on the streets. Now some scowl, and there is a great deal of anti-American sentiment. The Miss Universe Pageant in Mexico City and a currently running talent show on major Mexican television network reflect an unprecedented public display of contempt for Americans. How have Mexicans reflected on their own prejudices against Americans, which are making U.S./Mexican relations even worse?

Vicente Fox: Thank you for your comments. I am glad that you are in Chiapas, Mexico, and you have a clear picture of the Mexico of today.

Relations between Mexico and the United States are extremely good, athough right now the immigration debate in the U.S. is fierce. I find that some people, as well as media, are uninformed. My purpose with the book "Revolution of Hope" is to get my message out there, so that the debate can become more objective and better-informed.

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Toledo, Ohio: Why can't/won't Mexico create an economy and society like that of the U.S. and Canada? Do that and all the immigration problems are solved.

Vicente Fox: Unfortunately, most countries in Latin America in practical terms lost their access to development during the 20th century. We were in the hands of dictators, either military or personal, or authoritarian and corrupt governments (as in the case of Mexico). Today most of Latin America has solid democracies, and economic reforms have been made and we are back on the right path.

In the case of Mexico, we have reached a per capita income of $8,500. We have reduced poverty in the past six years by 35 percent. We have increased people's real income by 30 percent. This -- combined with the substantial reduction of population growth -- will give us access to development.

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Washington: How do you feel NAFTA could have been better implemented? Growing up on the border, I felt it was rushed and killed our economy in El Paso, Texas.

Vicente Fox: NAFTA has been successful in its first 12 years for the U.S., for Mexico and for Canada. We need a new vision for the future; we need to further integrate. We must make out of partnership a solid success. To me, the process in the European Union is an inspiration, certainly adaptable to our region of the world.

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Vancouver, Wash.: What characteristics do you see in the next generation of Mexican political leaders?

Vicente Fox: The democratic arrival in the year 2000 marked a new era for politics in Mexico. We moved from an authoritarian government to a democratic government. We moved from corruption to transparency. We moved from inefficiency to good quality government. Democracy will keep changing political leadership in Mexico for the better.

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Carlisle, Pa.: President Fox, your election changed politics in Mexico forever. I have taught Mexican politics at U.S. Military Academy (West Point) and the Army War College. Moreover, I have been to Mexico many times. While your administration accomplished many important reforms, one area remained in the dark ages: The Mexican military has embraced change very slowly. They are good at domestic disaster relief and surprised many in the U.S. when they deployed to New Orleans and helped us with Hurricane Katrina, but they still resist the clarion call to participate in international peacekeeping operations. What will it take to get over the "constitutional hurdles" and dinosaur mindsets?

Vicente Fox: Recent democracy gave us the opportunity to unanimously approve in Congress the Law of Information Transparency and Accountability Act. This element will bring in the eradication of corruption.

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London: Mr. President, could you explain why you criticize "anti-immigrant" policies, such as preventing undocumented migrants from working in the United States, when you enforced even harsher policies toward undocumented migrants entering Mexico?

Vicente Fox: Yes, Mexico has the opportunity to see both sides of the coin on this issue. On one side, even some Mexicans who have a job and a salary migrate to the U.S. to attain better income than the one they get in Mexico. This is very similar to the Irish, the Spanish and the Portuguese going to Britain for a better salary. This just happens to be the spirit of the migrant -- they always are looking to improve their families' incomes and quality of life. On the other side, more than 250,000 Central Americans crossed the border last year into Mexico and further north. We all must treat them with respect; we must ensure their human rights and make sure they are treated with dignity. This is why is it is much better to have an immigration reform in U.S. that will bring a framework, through which we can make immigration an asset and a "win-win" situation for all.

By the way, Europe is struggling with same issue with Asia. I hope that with European values, like compassion and solidarity, the right solutions will be reached soon.

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Wheaton, Md.: Why are so many Mexicans willing to give up everything they own and risk their lives to come to America and clean toilets? Is life in Mexico really that horrible?

Vicente Fox: Same as my grandfather did, coming from Cincinnati down to Guanajuato, Mexico -- without a penny in his pocket, full of courage, and dreams. Mexico welcomed him and he found his American dream. Immigrants are a different caste -- they are a very special kind of people. They always are moving, dreaming and looking for improvement.

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Kensington, Md.: Why did the drug cartels in Mexico become so powerful during your administration?

Vicente Fox: Mexico just happens to be in between the producing drug countries of the South and the huge consumer market of the North -- the U.S. and Canada. We have been at war with cartels, organized crime and drug trafficking.

There is no doubt that this is a joint responsibility for producing, consuming and distributing countries. I always ask myself the question: Once a drug has moved across the border, who moves it north to New York, Chicago, etc.? Who collects and launders the huge amount of money that comes back to Mexico to bribe the police? We have to work together in this war.

I absolutely am convinced that we will defeat drug cartels. In my administration, we arrested 75,000 members of cartels. Some leaders were extradited to meet U.S. justice and many others are in Mexican jails. Felipe Calderon is continuing with this fight. He is a man of great character and he will succeed and become the best president that Mexico has had.

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Washington: Mr. President, it was an honor to meet you in New York, and act as interpreter for your technical team. This is my question: Did Roberto Madrazo and some of his allies in Congress block many of the reforms you proposed out of ill will, or did your office mishandle relations with the opposition, thereby decreasing the chances of effective negotiation?

Vicente Fox: You are right, we were a minority government in both houses. They key reforms that I presented were blocked in Congress, such as the tax reform, the energy reform and the security and law enforcement law. History will tell who is to blame for this. But, Felipe Calderon is trying again with new energy, and he partially has advanced the reforms. Going through a democratic transition is complex in the beginning. The first steps toward the needed reforms are under way.

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Laurel, Md.: What's in the future for Vicente Fox? Can you still participate in politics in Mexico? State governor? Legislator?

Vicente Fox: There is no re-election in Mexico for the president, but I could participate in other government positions. However, it is not in my plans. My plans are to finish building the first ever presidential library in Mexico or Latin America as an academic center, think tank and cultural site in Rancho San Cristobal, Guanajuato, Mexico. Please visit us at www.CentroFox.org.mx.

I am also president of the International Democratic Center. This is a big responsibility on which I am very committed.

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Atlanta: Mr. President, it is common to hear you praising the accomplishments of your administration, especially regarding the "low" unemployment rate in Mexico; however, it is well-known that illegal migration to the United States exploded during your administration as well. Should not you acknowledge the contributions of the American workers towards the Mexican economy? It seems to me that you are taking credit for something you did not do.

Vicente Fox: Immigration is a 100-year-old issue and it has been growing for years and years. As long as we have such a difference as 6 to 1 between the U.S. income and the Mexican income, as long as people looking for a better life will keep moving to a place where they can bring a better life to their families, we will have this issue. This is done by U.S. citizens every day, and people around the world, every day worldwide.

What we need is to narrow the income gap between Mexico and the U.S., and we are doing so. Twenty-five years ago, the ratio was 20 to 1; today it is 6 to 1, and we are aspiring in the near future to have the same situation as Canada and the U.S. -- a 1 to 1 ratio.

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Raleigh, N.C.: By and large, Latin America has taken a "nonjudgmental" approach to the human rights abuses by the Castro regime in the past 50 years. Little has been said publicly about the executions, long prison sentences given to peaceful dissidents, the thousands who have lost their lives trying to flee from the regime, and the suppression of all views that do not coincide with those of the Revolution. Instead, Latin America has urged the end of the embargo, as if bankrupt Cuba has much of anything to sell or the means to buy. In turn, Castro has limited his subversion in Latin countries that have supported him diplomatically. As the Castro dictatorship finally draws to an end, do you think this "devil's bargain" -- and I am referring to Mexico particularly -- has been moral or even worthwhile?

Vicente Fox: Mexico always has been against the embargo, as Mexico is always against building walls, like the one between Mexico and the United States. Mexico is always in favor of building bridges of understanding, of trade, of education and technology. Mexico is against any violation of human rights -- as in Cuba and in the U.S. Mexico is always in favor of freedom and democracy, which are the solid foundations of a better life.

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Delray Beach, Fla.: I heard you state in an earlier interview that there are is no border between the U.S. and Mexico. What exactly were you implying? A theoretical border, a physical border, that there should be no immigration laws? Please explain.

Vicente Fox: When I have spoken and presented proposals to the U.S. government, it is about the convenience of further integrating, and we have a clear example on the process of integrating the European Union.

Today there is one passport, one European Citizenship, a common Parliament and many other steps that they have taken together. This has benefited nations like Spain, Greece and Portugal. Countries that were poor 25 years ago today have solidly developed economies and families with high levels of income. Why can't we be not only partners in the long term, but a North American Union? What would be better for the U.S. than having a prosperous Mexico?

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Washington: Mr. President. You linked a top PRI politician, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, with drug cartels, based on DEA documents. My question is: Why you didn't do anything about it during your administration? And if what you say is true, why is it that he met with John Negroponte during his recent trip to Mexico? Do you think that the U.S. protecting him?

Vicente Fox: It was the New York Times and one of its reporters that announced this fact. It was long before I became president, so if anything was not done it was because the PRI regime was ruling Mexico, and for 72 years they covered one another's corruption. There was no independence for the judiciary or the legislature until 2000, when Mexico became a democratic nation with checks and balances, through the real autonomy through each of the three branches of government.

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Dallas: Mr. Fox, I am a Mexican who did not vote for you, and hold left-of-center political positions in general, but I must say that in the last two years of your administration there was a constant string of attacks on you, some of them justified but others simply outrageous. At the end, I thought there was a complete disconnect about what you would read in all Mexican newspapers and your approval ratings ... something that still is going on. What are your thoughts on this? I think its similar to what Bill Clinton experienced here...

Vicente Fox: With democracy arriving in the year 2000 we started a new era that brought absolute freedom to media and to people. But at the very end, freedom must be exercised with responsibility and never affecting third parties or breaking the law. This new framework has been used by some with high responsibility (including some media) to make accusations without proof. But I always will stand first for freedom than for protecting myself from these attacks. I guaranteed freedom during my term and I keep considering that freedom and democracy are the corner stone of building nations.

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Port Clinton, Ohio: Who were your favorite foreign leaders to hang out with? Is that guy in Venezuela really as loco as the U.S. media portrays him to be?

Vicente Fox: Historically, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi. They accomplished the most supreme goals and did it with their power within, their spiritual values and the commitment to put even their lives at risk in order to accomplish their dreams.

The book "Revolution of Hope" amply deals with this subject as well as the war for freedom of religion in the case of Mexico back in 1930. These are the people who I admire, and this is why I think that in politics, politicians and government should let themselves by guided more by their spiritual values than by the polls.

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Vicente Fox: Thank you very much for your time! Please feel free to contact Marta and I at www.centrofox.org.mx or please come visit us in San Cristobal and we will have a good tequila and enchilada and keep this chat going. God bless all of you.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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