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Fox's Presidency Isn't a Breeze, It's a Whirlwind

His ambitious plan to remake Mexico during his 6-year term is turning heads. Some wonder if he may have too much on his plate and lacks focus.

March 10, 2001|JAMES F. SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — President Vicente Fox has spent his first 100 days in office generating so many initiatives, programs and operations that Mexicans could be pardoned for shrugging: another day, another crusade.

With the combined zeal of his Jesuit education and his years as a Coca-Cola executive, Fox has crafted an ambitious vision for turning Mexico on its head by the end of his six-year term--if he can execute even a portion of his projects.

This week, Fox launched the National Crusade for Forests and Water, attacking the ominous problems of deforestation and looming water shortages that could leave major cities without sufficient water within a few decades.

That was just the latest of a stream of actions, from January's National Crusade for Quality Health Services and a "war without quarter" against drug trafficking, to February's "social alliance against crime" and a crusade against corruption. Then there are the efforts to reach a peace accord in the rebellious southern state of Chiapas, and a plethora of economic and social programs to attack poverty, improve education and create thousands of small businesses.

It's hard not to wonder whether Fox has created so many initiatives that he could drown politically and get lost logistically as he tries to juggle laudable objectives.

The other risk is burnout--both for the president and his nationwide audience. Fox often gives half a dozen speeches a day, most of them inspirational and outlining his goals, as he races around the country.

Indeed, Fox appears to be deliberately following a high-risk strategy, with potentially high returns. He is creating a bold agenda, fitting for the first presidential candidate to defeat the Institutional Revolutionary Party in seven decades.

Like any top corporate executive, he is crafting ambitious public goals to channel his team's energies--and against which his administration can be measured.

His high-profile public presence and his often informal language set him apart from his predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, whose appearances were carefully orchestrated. Fox has frequent spontaneous contact with the public.

Political scientist Soledad Loaeza, a professor at the Colegio de Mexico, said Fox is "running the risk of overdoing the very colloquial and informal style of practicing politics. The problem is he's not conveying the image of taking things seriously."

Some analysts ask whether it would have been wiser to pick a couple of clear goals--such as reducing crime and creating jobs--and do everything necessary to meet them, instead of painting a vast, complex mural of ideals that in effect amounts to a new Mexico.

"As they say on the ranch, he has a lot of irons in the fire," commentator Adrian Trejo wrote in Friday's El Economista. "Fox has announced programs of every type, from scholarships to fighting corruption. On the national stage, such programs don't seem much more than simple placebos to attack authentic social tumors."

The national Web site Terra (http://www.terra.com.mx) has recorded Fox's first 100 days with a weekly list of decisions made and programs announced. They range from a pact signed with 30 governors for creating real federalism to a commitment for appropriate care for every disabled Mexican throughout his term in office.

To be sure, the first 100 days--which Fox completes today--have seen a far more open debate than in years past. Fox broached issues that were long ignored: He proposed that a new constitution be drafted; put corporate executives on the board of the government-owned national oil company; called for a new attitude toward Mexicans who migrate to the United States for economic reasons--people whom Fox called "heroes"; and went to the border to greet them as they came home for Christmas.

Fox was criticized during his campaign for insisting stubbornly and combatively that he wanted to debate his opponents "today, today today!" Since then, he has repeatedly played off that moment, making it a symbol of the urgency he applies to his national crusade for a new Mexico.

"The time to be in Mexico is today," he said late last month. "The time to invest in Mexico is today. The time to do business in Mexico is today. He who is not in Mexico today is missing something important."

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