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Published: Wednesday, 12/6/2000

A `21st Century' Fox

A new millennium and a new Mexico? We can only hope.

When Vicente Fox took office Friday as the new president of Mexico, he ended 71 years of rule by an increasingly corrupt and stagnating Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). He will have the best wishes of millions of people in his country and the United States as he does so.

However, the change is far more than simply political. Mr. Fox faces the formidable, some would say impossible, challenge of reforming Mexico's economic and political systems from top to bottom.

A Wall Street Journal columnist says Mr. Fox's first challenge may well be reforming the country's electricity sector. Mexico has an entrenched government monopoly of electric power. Reforming that system would offer new management and an infusion of foreign capital, but it will be strongly opposed by the PRI, which sees the privatization issue as a cudgel with which to belabor Mr. Fox's National Action Party (PAN) in the next election six years from now. Union members adhering to left-wing parties may well join their old rivals in the PRI to block any changes that might cost them jobs.

An even more pressing task for Mr. Fox is to tackle the pervasive corruption and bureaucratic indifference that so often frustrates even the most elementary rights of Mexican citizens. The instance is cited of a taxi driver whose car was stolen, along with his license to operate. For two years the cabbie was unable to get any answers from police or other agencies. His efforts to investigate the progress of the case were simply brushed off with excuse after excuse.

Recently Katherine Minter Cary, assistant attorney general in charge of open records for the state of Texas, looked into the case and in short order listed at least 22 pieces of information for which the cab driver could have asked in Texas in order to solve his problem. Such disclosure is standard procedure north of the Rio Grande.

Those are two quite different problems facing Mexico's new president. If Mr. Fox makes substantial progress on either front, it will be an unprecedented and welcome change in the way the country operates.

And George Bush and Al Gore think they have problems.



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