Hope, Hillary and Hugo
Former Mexican president talks immigration, presidential candidates and international relations.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Looking out over the golden spine of Carmel Valley’s Sierra de Salinas hills, the ex-president looks to be at peace. But his calm demeanor belies the fact that former Mexican President Vicente Fox doesn’t like what’s happening in the world.
The 65-year-old politician is concerned about the lack of progress on the immigration front. He isn’t happy with the way his countrymen are treated in the United States. And he is displeased with lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and developments in Latin American neighbors like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. These feelings rank among the reasons that his retirement—since he left office in 2006, six years after famously ousting the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party for the first time in 71 years—has been anything but kick-back.
He is touring to promote a recently released autobiography that espouses a new vision for building collaboration between nations. He has established an unprecedented presence in domestic politics, maintaining a higher profile than any other past president—a dramatic departure from the standard duck-into-hiding presidential despedida. Meanwhile, Fox has had to fend off charges of corruption that have dogged him since he and his wife, Martha Sahagún, were photographed by a celebrity magazine primping in digs judged too opulent for the salary paid the president of Mexico.
Perhaps most ambitiously, he has launched a campaign to erect the first-ever presidential library in the country’s history. Centro Fox, which will be located in his home state of Guanajuato, will be far more than a library, hosting a museum, an education center and a think tank, all geared to “promote freedom and democracy, as well as cultural values, in Mexico and Latin America.”
The Weekly met with Fox during his Monterey County visit last week. Sipping a Silver Oak Cabernet from Napa Valley while relaxing next to a fireplace in the sitting room at the immaculate Carmel Valley home of his brand-new pals, Jose and Bobbi Buenrostro (see story, pg. 15), he spoke briefly of Centro Fox—and of everything ranging from immigration and understanding to Hillary Clinton and Hugo Chavez.
Weekly: Not a lot of people know how close you and President Bush were to an immigration deal before 9/11. Do you think there is anything from that deal that is still relevant, that still can happen to establish a path to citizenship for the immigrants who you describe as “so courageous”?
Fox: Well, it’s very unfortunate. We are going backwards. Building a wall is not up to the democratic standards and credentials of this great nation [the United States], which I love. I don’t know what the fear is because immigrants are not terrorists. They are not violent people. They are mothers and fathers who are looking for a better life for their families. Building a wall is isolating from the rest of the world—this is pretty dangerous for the United States. Instead of building walls, we should be building bridges, bridges of understanding, bridges of sharing education and technology, bridges of trade—this is the purpose of my book Revolution of Hope. This is the purpose of my touring in the United States—right? Building bridges, trying to bring in objective, reliable information so that the immigration debate is not misleading, is not misinformed.
Weekly: It’s encouraging to see this come from a grass-roots level. You are taking a different route, meeting at the community level. Tell me about that strategy—how it’s a different strategy and why other people aren’t doing it.
Fox: You have to be where the action is—where things are happening. To build a public policy you have to do it from listening to people, listening to their needs, listening to their aspirations and their dreams. As governor of the state of Guanajuato, I would spend time in my visits to California with the workers here, with the people that were harvesting vegetables in the farms. I always go into the kitchen of a restaurant. I always go and visit those who are in the construction industry. I like to listen to them, their stories, their emotions, their aspirations. This is why I have been so committed with immigrants today—and also because my grandfather was an immigrant. But he emigrated from Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was born, down to Mexico and Mexico welcomed him with opened arms and he found his American dream in Mexico. So, to me, immigrants are a very special caste of people. They are a different kind of human beings and they are productive, they are loyal, they are hard working and they contribute enormously to the well being of the U.S. economy and to the quality of life of every home in the United States.
Weekly: Do you have hope for a path to citizenship for Mexicans here? And is there a particular candidate that would help bring it to reality?
Fox: I don’t see it now. The debate is going wrong. The debate is misleading. It’s emotional. It lacks information—objective and reliable information and it’s only addressed to gaining position for votes for this next election. Politicians, to my point of view, should not be thinking about the next election. They should be thinking about the next generation—and immigration is a need to this nation. The needs of the 500,000 new jobs every year that are not being filled by national Americans—this economy can only keep on growing and running with the support of labor coming from abroad. And what we need is to confront those xenophobic voices, like the Minutemen, which are misleading, which are confusing more and more public opinion, and what we need to do is [cast] fear aside. Let’s keep on worrying and working against terrorism, but that doesn’t have anything to do with immigration. This great nation was built by immigrants all along and that’s the only way—through this diversity—that we have the leader with the largest economy in the world. So let’s sit down, use our common sense, negotiate this cause and build up a framework through which immigration can be an asset to the United States and an asset to Mexico. And to those who immediately react, saying that Fox is for open borders and that Fox is supporting illegality, that’s false. I am for legality. I am for order and that’s what I’m working for, to have the U.S. Congress to approve reform on immigration.
Weekly: I heard you say that you might like a woman in office because women have vision that might help lead the nation.
Fox: That is right. I love women. I love my wife and I think that women have a lot to contribute to the better being of all nations in this global world that we have today. The world is flat and everybody has to be part of this world. Women do have very special values and characteristics to bring to government and to bring to leadership and so I just hope that in government, in politics, in economy, in business, women take the lead.
Weekly: But that’s not to say that you would like to see Hillary Clinton elected?
Fox: Are there any other women in the race?
Weekly: Unfortunately, no.
Fox: Then, you can deduct (laughs).
Weekly: Work during your time as president rid the country of much corruption. When you see accusations of corruption against you now, what goes through your mind?
Fox: I don’t waste my time on paying attention to them. You should know, and everybody should know, that it’s opposition. You just have to pay a little bit of attention and learn where it’s coming from. It’s political opposition—to me, this is politics and this is opposition politics. I don’t have anything to fear. I don’t have anything to hide. I’m going to invest my time in building the library and building the Vamos Mexico foundation, and in making sure that me and Martha pay our contribution—our modest contribution to a better Mexico. So if they want to lose their time and spend their budget in that, let them do it. I don’t care. I have my own challenges and my own objectives and my own vision to the future.
Weekly: And it’s quite a vision. I have to ask about the Fox Center. It’s an inspiring vision. It’s about bringing democracy, pluralism. Why is the Fox Center, Centro Fox, which is so big and so much more than a library, what Mexico needs?
Fox: Because we need to make sure that we consolidate our democracies and that every single Latin American enjoys absolute freedom, because it’s managed today by guys like Hugo Chavez [in Venezuela] or Rafael Correa in Ecuador or Juan Evo Morales in Bolivia. So this is to promote the values of transparency, accountability, of good government, of powerful social policies, so it’s what the center is going to be. That’s why I’m president today of the International Democratic Center Ideology of the world because it’s the way that I can contribute with my modest work to keep our nations in Latin America on the right path and really have the opportunity to defeat poverty. Because by giving away the fish, like Hugo Chavez, we will not end up with wealth. You end up with poverty being traded for wealth and you can only trade poverty for wealth through a solid economic market economy—market economy policies, and this is what I would be promoting all through Latin America and that’s why I’m here: not only to raise funds because the Centro Fox is privately invested, but to associate the Centro Fox with this other NGO [non-governmental organization] that I’m leading—to associate the Centro Fox with a philanthropic sector of the economy. Today is National Philanthropic Day. I’m building bridges instead of walls.