Mexican president-elect vies for open border

The Associated Press
Saturday November 11, 2000

LOS ANGELES — A new era may be opening for California and Mexico, but some old problems may complicate the burgeoning relationship between Gov. Gray Davis and Mexican president-elect Vicente Fox. 

Fox’s desire to open the border for workers and expand free trade, for example, could run afoul of labor unions and groups wanting to stem the tide of illegal immigrants.  

How Davis accommodates both sides could be key to whether the relationship succeeds. 

“Whatever agreement is made between Mexico and the United States has to ensure that wages and jobs here aren’t degraded,” said Neal Sacharow, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. 

Fox, 58, concluded a two-day visit to California on Friday, hoping to foster greater cooperation between the state and Mexico.  

The relationship has been rocky in recent years, primarily because of statewide initiatives viewed as hostile to immigrants. 

Davis has said he’s committed to maintaining good relationships with Mexico and forging joint goals in areas such as education and the environment. 

Fox, who takes office Dec. 1, has met several U.S. lawmakers since he won election July 2. He is the first opposition presidential candidate ever to defeat the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has ruled Mexico since 1929. 

Long term, he envisions Mexico and the United States cooperating in a way similar to the countries making up the European Union. 

“The approach to resolve conflict is through opportunity,” Fox said.  

“We want to change the border from a place where there is sometimes conflict to a place of opportunities.” 

On his immediate agenda, Fox wants to improve the quality of education and wage an intense war on drug trafficking.  

A drug-fighting initiative, however, illustrates how difficult meeting some of his goals could be. 

Corruption in Mexico has hampered U.S. attempts to thwart cross-border traffickers. Especially troubling have been alliances between drug cartels and Mexican law enforcement. 

Past Mexican presidents have done little to eliminate such corruption, but Fox appears better situated to tackle it, said William Glade, director of the Mexican Center at the University of Texas at Austin. 

“He’s already enunciated a number of important areas of reform ... and I think he has a genuine will to try to do something about them, and an opportunity at this juncture in Mexican politics,” Glade said. 

Labor’s potential opposition to easing restrictions on immigrant workers or lowering trade barriers poses a problem for Davis but is ultimately shortsighted and unrealistic, he said. 

“I don’t know that the position of organized labor is very credible,” Glade said.  

“These things are happening, and we might as well work  

with them instead of trying to prevent them.” 

But Glade said some of Fox’s goals, such as having the two countries cooperate to improve Mexico’s infrastructure, could face opposition from politicians and a public unwilling to commit U.S. money. 

Despite the challenges, Mexican-Americans are encouraged by both leaders’ pledge to meet twice a year. As a gesture of goodwill, Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante plan to attend Fox’s inauguration. 

“We hope his visits will create better lines of communication so progress can be made in both countries,” said Mickie Luna, who heads the California League of United Latin America Citizens.