- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

MEXICO CITY President-elect Vicente Fox, whose victory at the ballot box ended the ruling party's 71-year reign, is on an international charm offensive to convince the world that he represents a new, democratic Mexico worthy of trust and support.
Nowhere is this clearer than in his attempt to persuade the United States and Canada that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) should be transformed from an essentially commercial agreement into a much more comprehensive partnership open borders included.
Mr. Fox has said Mexico, the United States and Canada should move into a common market agreement where Mexicans, Americans and Canadians can work beyond their countries' borders an idea unlikely to be accepted in the United States.
The model is the European Union (EU), with Mexico cast in the role of Portugal or Greece, two countries that have seen living standards rise dramatically since entering the EU helped by targeted development funds designed to reduce economic disparities among member states. "That's the idea. Now we have to sell it," Mr. Fox has said.
The president-elect will get his first official opportunity to do just that during a four-day tour taking him from Canada today to Washington tomorrow to meet President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate. He also will travel to Dallas on Friday to meet Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush before heading back to Mexico.
Mr. Fox, of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), won the presidency July 2 in general elections that handed the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) its first presidential defeat in 71 years of rule.
On Sunday, that electoral victory was closely mirrored in Chiapas, where a senator heading a broad opposition coalition spanning the left-leaning to the right-of-center defeated the PRI candidate for the governorship of the conflict-torn state.
With 94.5 percent of Sunday's votes counted, Sen. Pablo Salazar held 52.7 percent of the vote, compared with 46.9 percent for Sen. Sami David of the PRI, the state Electoral Board said yesterday. About 50 percent of the 2 million Chiapas voters cast ballots, it added.
Mr. Fox's aides do not expect a warm welcome for their proposal to work toward eliminating the restrictions along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico frontier.
There are currently an estimated 8 million Mexican-born adults living in the United States, about 40 percent of them illegal, with the population increasing by 350,000 every year, despite ever-stiffer border controls.
"Top people in Washington have said, 'Don't do it; don't frighten people with those ideas,' " said Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, an independent senator with a leftist background who is one of Mr. Fox's core foreign policy advisers.
Mr. Aguilar Zinser admits the new government's North American common market proposal is in its infancy but insists, "We have been told not [to push it], but we are going to try anyway."
Jorge Santibanes, who heads the Mexico-based College of the Frontier, views such statements as clear evidence of a break with the style of the PRI, that has tended to shy away from a proactive policy on migration.
"Past Mexican governments have been open to discussion on trade and drug trafficking, but we can't talk about a good bilateral relationship when one of the key problems, migration, has been hidden away," said Mr. Santibanes.
But Mr. Santibanes has difficulty taking the open-border proposal totally seriously.
"I can't see the frontier being opened, but the idea could help push for a new kind of work-visa program in which Mexicans with a job offer in the United States could get themselves a visa easily," he said.
He believes that an amnesty-type measure, like the one that legalized 2 million Mexicans in 1986, would reduce the pressure only temporarily.
The other high-profile issue on Mr. Fox's Washington wish list is his call for an end to the annual certification process by which the U.S. conditions foreign aid on an evaluation of a country's cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking.
On a recent visit to Mexico City, U.S. drug policy director Barry McCaffrey appeared to give Mr. Fox's team encouragement. "I firmly believe that the certification process is slowly disappearing," Gen. McCaffrey told them.
Mexico has never been put on the official blacklist, despite its highly questionable record, but certification is viewed as an example of U.S. arrogance and is deeply resented within the country.

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