- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 16, 2000

This is the moment that Mexico's corrupt politicians had long feared. Mexico's newly inaugurated president, Vicente Fox, has made a clear and instant break with the tradition of complicity and fraud that marked the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) seven-decade monopoly on power.

Mr. Fox, who was sworn in Dec. 1, is tackling the country's problems with rare dispatch. According to an article Monday in the Mexican newspaper El Universal, Mr. Fox's administration is investigating the relatives of his predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, for bilking the government for more than $1 million in taxes. The article said Mr. Fox had files indicating that Mexico's finance minister at the time, Jose Angel Gurria, gave Mr. Zedillo's relatives an improper pardon on this revenue in 1998. Although Mr. Zedillo ran one of the cleanest governments in Mexico's history, his relatives have been accused of trying to exploit the president's power for personal gain.

But Mr. Fox's zeal for setting the record straight hasn't stopped there. The president's newly appointed national security chief, Adolfo Aguilar, said Tuesday that he was unraveling a maze of illegal wiretaps used by PRI politicians to spy on political rivals and crush dissent. Mr. Aguilar said that government electronic surveillance had become "an institution used partly to intimidate opposition leaders, political parties, newspaper editors, newspaper reporters, union leaders people the government considered enemies."

Mr. Fox is intimately familiar with this rampant political espionage. He discovered two years ago, when first beginning his presidential campaign, that his phones had been tapped. Surveillance equipment has also been found in the walls of Mexico's human rights commission, chambers in various state supreme courts and the offices of many opposition politicians. Mr. Fox vowed to never spy on his political rivals.

This administration is also breaking with the PRI's economic traditions. In order to counteract excessive public spending in 2000, Mr. Fox's 2001 budget proposal aims to cut Mexico's fiscal deficit in half and bolster tax collection. Although some economist believe the budget's growth estimate of 4.5 percent may be optimistic, they are generally pleased by Mr. Fox's fiscal prudence.

Mexico's new president is also demonstrating a flourish for redefining protocol. Mr. Fox infuriated PRI lawmakers by ad-libbing a pledge to look after "the poor and marginalized" of Mexico while taking his oath of office. Mr. Fox's impromptu pledge so irked some legislators that the Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution Tuesday criticizing the president for violating protocol. This petty behavior on the part of these lawmakers will surely backfire.

Since Mr. Fox's election victory, many observers wondered how much Mr. Fox would be able to achieve in stamping out corruption and promoting sustainable economic growth. It appears this president won't let much stop him.

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