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Fox's Bold Ideas Charm and Alienate Mexicans


Mexican President Vicente Fox surprised his hosts in Washington Wednesday by calling for an agreement on legalizing Mexican immigrants in the United States by the end of the year. Only the day before The Washington Post had printed an interview with Mr. Fox in which he spoke of such an agreement taking as long as six years to develop and implement. It is this sort of unpredictability that has both charmed and alienated many Mexicans.

The practice of suddenly tossing out a bold idea, as he did in Washington Wednesday, won Vicente Fox votes in last year's election. Many Mexicans wanted a leader who they thought could get things done without a lot of fuss. In one famous statement, he said he could solve the conflict with leftist insurgents in Chiapas in 15 minutes. The issue proved to be more complex than his statement implied and is still unresolved.

The most important proposal President Fox has put forth so far is his fiscal reform package, which would expand the government's revenue base through a value-added tax. Currently Mexico's fiscal system captures only about 11 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product through taxes. That is less than half of what the United States and most other developed countries take in, using the same measure.

But in spite of the pressing need for reform, President Fox's plan is stalled in Congress. Political analyst Sergio Sarmiento says the only hope for its passage will be compromises with opposition parties that will likely undermine the purpose of the proposal.

"The president will get the votes and we will have a fiscal reform, but this reform will not actually solve the problems that we encounter right now," says Mr. Sarmiento. "That seems to be the case with other reforms the president wants to promote. The reforms, one way or another, seem likely to pass, but they are going to be so watered down that they will not basically solve the economic problems of this country."

President Fox's own party, the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, does not have a majority in Congress and Mr. Fox has alienated even some PAN members with his independent approach. In order to pass the fiscal reform bill or any other proposal, he will have to get votes from the former ruling party - the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Mr. Sarmiento and other political observers say the president should have started earlier and used more finesse in wooing votes in Congress. The same problem exists in Washington, where many members of Congress are reluctant to approve a broad amnesty or even a smaller guest worker program for Mexican migrants. President Bush has expressed support for the idea of legalizing some migrants. But he has also warned that developing such a plan and getting it approved will likely take much longer than the time frame suggested by President Fox on the White House lawn on Wednesday.

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