tampabay.com

Outgoing president has little legacy

Many Mexicans are disappointed that Vicente Fox didn't do more to improve their lives.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 1, 2006


MEXICO CITY - Six years after his astonishing victory ended 71 years of one-party rule, many people see Vicente Fox as the president who squandered a golden opportunity to turn Mexico around.

While he pushed a freedom-of-information law through Congress and reinforced the democratic process, Fox failed to create the millions of jobs he promised or to secure the U.S. immigration reform he longed to achieve.

On Friday, Fox was mourning the death of his mother, Mercedes Quesada de Fox. But by Sunday - his 64th birthday and six years to the day after his historic election - Fox planned to be in Mexico City to vote in the election to replace him.

Fox steps down Dec. 1, constitutionally barred from seeking re-election. Most Mexicans are hard-pressed to name his achievements as president.

"He did something, right?" said Emilia Santiago, a 40-year-old maid. "I just can't think of what it was."

Mexico is torn over which candidate to support: Felipe Calderon of Fox's conservative National Action Party, who advocates building on the president's fiscally conservative platform; former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, who pledges to govern for the poor; or Roberto Madrazo of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, who says he is a moderate option between the "radical left and intolerant right."

Polls show Calderon and Lopez Obrador are running about even.

Some of the indecision is due to mixed feelings about Fox. His approval ratings are at 65 percent, the same as at the start of his presidency.

But while most Mexicans agree Fox was a better option than the 71 years of authoritarian rule under the PRI, they are disappointed he didn't do more to improve their lives.

Some acknowledge Fox was limited by a hostile Congress and an inefficient, corrupt judicial system that he tried - and failed - to overhaul. Others say he didn't work hard enough to build support for his goals.

Porfirio Munoz Ledo, a key adviser to Fox's campaign who now works for Lopez Obrador, says Fox wasn't forceful enough. "Vicente didn't take office as the man of change, but as the flip-flop man," he said.

The president turned down repeated requests for an interview as he withdrew from the public eye after widespread criticism that his public comments were interfering with the campaign. One of his last public acts was to order his administration to guarantee a clean and safe vote.

He will spend his last five months in office pushing the United States to allow more Mexicans to work legally north of the border and overseeing a recent economic spurt. He and his wife, Marta Sahagun, plan to retire to his ranch after leaving office. Already, Fox's daily activities are largely relegated to the back pages of newspapers.

Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a Mexico expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Fox's accomplishments - overseeing a peaceful transition from the PRI and strengthening the separation of powers - are important, but not vote winners.

"It ultimately results in better government, but it's not a tangible benefit that people can feel or see in their everyday life," he said.