Vicente Fox Quesada (born July 2, 1942) is the current president of Mexico. He was elected in the 2000 presidential election, a historically significant election that made him the first president elected from an opposition party since Francisco I. Madero in 1910. His current term runs through 2006, re-election is not possible under the Constitution of Mexico.
Fox was born in Mexico City to a wealthy Mexican-Spanish family (with his father of part-Irish American descent), and grew up on a farm in the state of Guanajuato. His education included the Universidad Iberoamericana and seminars imparted by lecturers from the Business School of Harvard University. After the end of his education he went to work for The Coca-Cola Company, starting off as a route supervisor and driving a delivery truck. He rose in the company to become supervisor of Coca-Cola's operations in Mexico, and then in all of Latin America, despite the fact he didn't graduate from university until he became presidential candidate in 2000.
Early political career
Fox joined the National Action Party (PAN) in the 1980s by invitation of Manuel J. Clouthier, a distinguished member of that party, also an entepreneur and presidential candidate in 1988.
The PAN Party Promotes free market economies and conservative values and policies (the party is normally associated with the Roman Catholic church). It was the oldest opposition party in Mexico, a citizen, middle-to-high-class oriented group, the first to get a congressman (just one in a PRI dominated congress), a municipal president and a state governor (in the late eighties).
In 1988, Fox was elected to congress representing León, Guanajuato. He ran for governor of Guanajuato in 1991, and many thought he had won but the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate was declared the winner in what a number of observers considered a fraud by the government. In the ensuing uproar and after behind-the-scenes negotiations with president Carlos Salinas, the governorship was given to Carlos Medina Plascencia of the PAN on an interim basis. For that reason Fox retired from political activity for the rest of Salinas's term. At the end of Salinas' term the 82nd article of the Mexican constitution was modified to allow Mexicans born to a non-Mexican parent (his mother is Spanish) to run for the Presidency. While this change was interpreted to favor some of the PRI's politicians, in the end it enabled Fox to become president.
In 1995 Fox again ran for the governorship of his state. This time he won by an undisputedly wide margin and took office. His term as governor in Guanajuato was uneventful however, promoting private investments and government efficiency and transparency.
The presidential candidacy
In 1997, three years before the election, Fox declared that he would be the presidential candidate for his party. He was met with skepticism, because he was mostly an unknown in the national political scene, and even his party colleagues thought he was too inexperienced to even compete for the candidacy. Using his governship as a way to promote his image, he quickly rose to the national scene, claiming he was an honest, experienced entrepreneur, a citizen more than a politician (the general opinion on politicians in Mexico is very poor).
Although he made several mistakes along the way, being too aggressive, inexperienced and naïve, his playing against the rules paid off. When 1999 came and he was too popular for his party (PAN) to consider a different candidate, even when it was thought Fox was more "foxista" than "panista". Fox was nominated and mostly unopposed as the PAN party's presidential candidate for 2000.
After an aggressive campaign, full of promises and bashing of the other candidates, Fox won the election on July 2, 2000, (coincidentally his birthday) with a bit less than half the votes. Runner up, PRI's Francisco Labastida, lost by a few but convincing points. In December he assumed Presidency. It was then when his brash style of politics showed its flaws: he found he needed the support of a Congress dominated by the parties he bashed during his campaign, and even in his own party some were discomforted by him. He managed to infuriate congressmen from the first minute of his term when, inmediately after being sworn as president and donning the presidential band, he began his speech to congress by greeting all his sons and daughters by name; after that he addressed the Congress, breaking the protocol of the swearing ceremony.
Easy promises like fixing the EZLN guerrilla problem in "fifteen minutes" and economic growth of 7% were impossible to hold. In the EZLN's case he simply turned the requested constitutional changes to Congress to deal with, and the 7% growth was re-interpreted to be for the full six-year term.
Despite these problems, his popularity carried him for the first years, but disillusionment began. In a country ruled for 70 years by the same party, always subordinated to the President, change needed more than politic skill and diplomacy, and Fox had little of both. Dismantling the existing bureaucratic structure, displayed as corrupt and inefficient by Fox, would have meant unemployment, government paralyzation and costly relearning. After a year of calling the previous ruling party, PRI, a group of "tepocatas, alimañas, víboras prietas" (different terms for snakes and poisonous insects found in a farm) and stating that they caused Mexico 72 "lost years of development" (referring to the time they held the presidency) he found most state and municipality governors where priistas and the biggest, most organized and experienced party was also the PRI. In fact, after seven decades of ruling, the political, social and even economical system was imbued with the PRI in one form or another.
Partly to make amends, and partly because they were the most experienced ones, Fox included in his cabinet many officials from previous governments (not necessarily priistas) and also from the other opposition party, Partido de la Revolución Democrática. This elicited a comment from a PAN official, half-jokingly wondering whether Fox considered having a PAN member in his government (he had none at the beginning).
The early 2005 was difficult for Fox. On the night of Year's End 2004, the brother of escaped drug lord Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán was murdered in maximum-security prison of La Palma, housing many drug dealers but also notable kidnappers and murderers. In January 2005 an unprecendent operation by the mexican army sitiated La Palma (and later the other maximum-security prisons of the country). It turns out the drug dealers had taken control of the prison by money or fear and ran their affairs (even ordering the murder of their enemies) from inside the prison. The government described the whole operation as "regaining control" of the prisons. There's the rumor the apparently exaggerated presence of the army (they even dug trenches) was decided when the goverment knew a full scale assault to free the drug lords in La Palma was about to take place, including ground-to-ground missiles and aircraft to make good their escape. While this rumor isn't confirmed, there's no doubt the drug lords have the capacity to conduct such an attack if they want to; incidents of drug dealers repelling the police using bazookas aren't unheard of.
President, Mrs. Fox, and Laura Bush
The presidential couple
Since being married one year after the presidential election, Fox has on several occasions referred to himself and Marta Sahagún, his wife and former spokeswoman, as "the presidential couple" (la pareja presidencial). Critics have pointed out that this nomenclature is inconsistent with the terms of the Mexican Constitution (Art. 80: Supreme executive power is deposited in a single individual, who shall be called 'The President of the United Mexican States') and take it as an indication of Sahagún's own political — perhaps even presidential — ambitions. Even the term First Lady doesn't officially exist, and the wives of previous presidents usually had a low profile, with little or no involvement in government affairs, except being honorary heads of the DIF, a government institute for family and childhood welfare.
These supposed political ambitions, which Mrs. Sahagún never addressed directly, were the cause of much controversy. After many spending and funding scandals, it was discovered in the middle of 2004 that Marta's philanthropic foundation, Vamos Mexico, received indirect funding from the government's National Lottery. This caused a congress probe, and then the private secretary of Vicente Fox publicly quit, stating in an open letter he didn't agree with the way Fox supported the political ambitions of his wife. A few days later Fox announced a new general director for the National Lottery. By the middle of July the pressure was so great President Fox assured the press both he and Marta would go home after ending his term, and announced his wife would give a press conference about that. That press conference was delayed once, but finally, after one week, Marta Sahagún announced she would not run for the presidential office in 2006. This should have helped President Fox improve his relationship with congress and political parties, but the damage was done and some opposition politicians, mostly from the PRD, still refer to Marta as a potential candidate.
In 2004 opposing-party Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mayor of Mexico City, was accused by a judge of deliberately disobeying a judicial order, and subjected to a special political process to remove his constitutional protection against being subjected to judicial process. This caused great discomfort in AMLO´s party, the PRD, not because of the accusation which is minor, but of its implications: as long as he is subjected to judicial process, Mexican law disallows him from running for presidency. Elections will be held in 2006, so the timing is critical. Since AMLO is PRD´s only real option to win the presidency, and by 2004 the best of all precandidates, this has raised the whole party against Fox, whom they held responsible for what they think a political usage of the law.
For all this, Fox´s appearance in Congress to give his annual report, as mandated by Constitution, was met with heavy expressions of discomfort: interruptions, signs, photographs of AMLO and so on. This lasted for as long as he was reading his speech, making it possibly the hardest of all presidential speeches to Congress. The president of Congress had to call congressmen to order many times during his speech. Even former president Salinas, the biggest political enemy of the PRD, never had such a bad time. The situation was so uncomfortable that when he touched one of his most controversial reforms and was interrupted again, Fox stopped reading his speech for a moment and said "I invite all involved sides to make a truce to dialogue and obtain political agreements". Another noteworthy declaration was an optimistic "The best is yet to come" when referring to his government´s achievements so far and the remaining two years of his term. This was one of the hardest moments of Fox. Having made similar protests when he was in Congress against the current president he couldn´t defend himself, and his party did what it could. The general impression among the public was that Fox would like to improve the country but he simply can´t. The political class acted as if Fox term was about to end, two years before it does.
Most analysts consider Fox´s term will be remembered for being the first of an opposition party in modern times and for following the steps of previous governments (most notably previous president Zedillo) but doing little of its own. Most of the important reforms passed in Fox´s term were proposed by the PRI in previous terms and rejected (among others) by Fox and his party at the time. His economical policy is the natural continuation of Zedillo´s, as is his most important and praised social program, With you, who only had a name change. Fox's original initiatives were usually met with scepticism or scandal, and over time they were forgotten, even by Fox.
Vicente Fox with Marta Sahagún, Laura Bush, and George W. Bush