- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Mexico City's Zocalo, the capital's massive central square, exploded in celebration Sunday as Mexicans realized Vincente Fox would break the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) 71-year hold on power. However, it was Mr. Fox's election that was revolutionary, as the candidate for the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

Under the PRI's reign, corruption spread to every public institution. By voting for a PAN candidate, Mexicans protested the PRI's history of fraud, graft and indifference. Ridding Mexico of this infrastructure of corruption will be Mr. Fox's greatest challenge, and he must work to break up monopolies established in sweetheart deals between PRI politicians and their cronies. Much of Mexico's machinery of corruption is financed by the violent narcotics industry, which has blighted economic development for years. Some studies show that crime costs Mexico 9 percent of its gross domestic product a year.

Mexicans have entrusted Mr. Fox, who was once the chief executive of Coca-Cola in Mexico, with building a fairer and safer country attractive to foreign investors. Hopefully, Mr. Fox will be able to stave off the traditional economic crisis that invariably strikes shortly after elections in Mexico. Days after Mr. Zedillo stepped into power in 1994, for example, the Mexican peso took a plunge and real wages dropped by nearly a quarter.

Mr. Fox's comments on Sunday were encouraging. Although anti-American demagoguery can go a long way in Mexico, Mr. Fox outlined his optimistic vision for friendship with the United States. "We are not only neighbors and partners, but we have a common destiny," he said. "I know we are going to do many things together. I want to work intensely with the United States."

Unfortunately, Mexicans will surely have to brace themselves for some bloodshed, should Mr. Fox combat corruption and crime aggressively. Underworld elements comfortable with the status quo will likely resort to violence to defend their means of enrichment and power. To his credit, Mexico's current president, Ernesto Zedillo, has broken with PRI tradition by taking some steps to control these problems. Mr. Zedillo's decision to have the Federal Election Institute monitor Sunday's election, for example, helped bring genuine democracy to Mexico, even though it also ensured the PRI's political defeat. "Today we have proven that our democracy is a true democracy," said Mr. Zedillo graciously.

Establishing democracy is no easy feat and the Mexicans have plenty of cause to celebrate. But considerable challenges lie ahead, which will demand the sacrifice and patience of the Mexican people.

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