- Mexico Under Fox
At the halfway mark in the six year term of Mexican President, Vicente Fox, co-editors Luis Rubio and Susan Kaufman Purcell assembled a group of experts well equipped to assess the performance of the Fox regime and the national and international standing of the President himself. Luis Rubio sets the tone for the volume with an opening chapter focused on the process of democratization, with particular emphasis on institution building, while Edna Jaime addresses the ambitious goals and largely disappointing results of Fox's economic program, and Juan Pardinas examines Fox's mixed record in the fight to raise the standard of living of the Mexican poor. However, a full half of the book is devoted to the examination of Mexico's foreign relations. In three chapters contributed by Andrés Rozenthal, Luis Carlos Ugalde, and Susan Kaufman Purcell, knowledgeable commentators reflect on the Fox government's global and regional foreign policy initiatives and failures with particular emphasis on Mexico's relations with the United States.
Why the defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), after seven uninterrupted decades of control, did not usher in better times is addressed in Rubio's chapter. Rubio finds the source of many of Fox's problems in the electoral coalition that brought him to the presidency. Fox was only tepidly supported by the National Action Party (PAN) whose standard he bore, and he presided over an ineffective cabinet rife with infighting among the various and diverse members of the political coalition that made his candidacy viable and brought him to power. Under the circumstances, foxistas from across the political spectrum found themselves united by nothing but their common claim to have contributed to Fox's electoral victory. More persuasive and charismatic as a candidate than a president, Fox had promised "change" but never defined it in the course of his campaign and he had raised expectations that he could not fulfill. This was particularly the case because, with the disappearance of the "official party system" which had featured a concentration of power in the executive branch, a rubber-stamp legislature, and a dominant political party, that was, effectively conterminous with the state, Fox found himself in the historically unprecedented situation of actually having to steer legislative initiatives through a recalcitrant chamber of deputies and senate where his party did not hold a majority, and even panista legislators owed little allegiance to their party leader.
As Rubio points out, the Mexican Constitution does not give great powers to the president of the republic. Thus, once the man in the presidential palace no longer controlled the distribution of state resources as patronage or the nomination of candidates for public office at national, state, and local levels who, through electoral fraud, were guaranteed victory, the chief executive became a relatively weak player in a system increasingly dominated by opposition legislators, state governors, and local officials who owned nothing to the president. Along with a more equal balance [End Page 294] of power between the legislature and the executive and the emergence of the judiciary as a "central arbiter of disputes within the political system" (p. 26), another healthy development that has weakened the presidency is the emergence of a genuinely independent, if often savagely critical, press. All of these changes are correctly identified by Rubio as complex, at times frustrating, but on balance, positive steps in the long, difficult process of democratization.
What is unpersuasive in Rubio's account is his assertion that "[w]hile formal institutions such as political parties, the Congress and the Supreme Court began to adjust to the new reality," what he refers to as "informal groupings" did not. "The vested interests and noninstitutional players that had thrived outside the rule of law," he writes, "have continued to use extortion and other extralegal means of accomplishing their goals as though nothing had changed," thus posing a challenge "to the stability of the system at large" (p. 27). Who, the reader might wonder, are these unruly actors...