- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

SAN CRISTOBAL, Mexico Days before his inauguration as president, Vicente Fox said America should deal with its drug habit and pledged to join the United States and Canada in what he called "NAFTA-plus."

In an interview with the Associated Press before he takes office on Friday, Mr. Fox said the United States has been too quick to write off Mexico as a corrupt haven for drug smugglers and too reluctant to look in the mirror.

"The United States year after year blames us. Why?" Mr. Fox asked. "Who lets the drugs into the United States? Who is doing gigantic business in the United States, then sends down millions of dollars that corrupt Mexican police officers and government officials?"

Mr. Fox said the two countries need to "sit down … and work this out together."

Mr. Fox has promised strong measures against drug corruption, but his comments indicate he will continue or increase Mexico's long-standing complaint that the supply of drugs would not exist without demand in the United States.

He also said that despite a tepid reaction from both George W. Bush and Al Gore, he was confident that he would persuade his northern neighbors to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement and eventually to open their borders entirely to Mexican goods and maybe even workers along the lines of the European Union.

"I am proposing a 'NAFTA-plus,' " he said. "I'm proposing that 20, 30 years down the road we form a North American common market in which we become partners, the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"I will continue to insist on this, and I know I will win the battle," Mr. Fox said. "I am going to persuade Bush or Gore, whoever it is. And I am going to persuade the American people."

Mr. Fox's election on July 2 was a historic change for Mexico, ending 71 years of rule by a single party. On Friday, the country enters a new era as Mr. Fox takes office and takes on dire problems including crippling poverty, widespread corruption and rampant crime.

A farmer and former Coca-Cola executive, Mr. Fox pledged to treat the country as a chief executive officer would a money-losing company, and to build "a government that costs less and does more."

Over the weekend, he took his final breather before the presidency, retreating to his hometown of San Cristobal, a farming village 210 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Mr. Fox milked a cow, tended to horses in the stables and played tennis, and joined his children in an out-of-tune number with a mariachi band. He sat for interviews Saturday with the Associated Press and CNN in his mother's living room, amid porcelain figurines of horses and black-and-white wedding photos of family members.

Chatting with his children and posing for photographers, Mr. Fox seemed extremely relaxed given what he's facing.

"It's just like in school," Mr. Fox said. "When it's time for exams, the people who have studied go in calmly, with the confidence that everything will go well… . I am going to be the best president this country has ever had."

Mr. Fox said he was aware of the huge probably unrealistic expectations Mexicans have for him, but claimed he wasn't worried about them. On the contrary.

"I would never throw cold water on that enthusiasm, on that hope," he said. "I dare say that this is Mexico's revolution of hope."

But he cautioned that most of the changes he envisions will take much longer than his six-year term.

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