- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

A year ago this month Vicente Fox took the oath of office and lifted the spirits of Mexicans in search of change following seven decades of one-party rule. But the transition to a maturing democracy combined with the difficulty of an economic downturn is slowing President Fox's momentum and hampering his ability to get his reforms passed through Congress.
The effects of multiparty democracy have emerged over the past year as the opposition-led Congress has challenged the president's initiatives while insisting that the administration has achieved nothing during its first year.
Even so, President Fox has done well. His administration has respected the political system while maintaining the fundamentals of the Mexican economy.
Confidence in Mexico remains high as investors are opting for Mexico rather than other developing nations at a time of uncertainty.
Since taking office, Mr. Fox has reoriented Mexico's foreign policy and has become a leader on the international scene, elevating Mexico's status as a world player. He has taken a personal interest in seeking a resolution to the internal conflict in Colombia. In addition, Mexico was recently elected one of the nonpermanent members to the United Nations' Security Council.
President Fox has developed a strong relationship with President Bush, aggressively engaging him on a variety of bilateral issues ranging from immigration to border security. Although progress on these issues was interrupted by the attacks on September 11, discussions should soon resume.
Now he and the Mexican Congress must learn how to effectively apply the golden rule of democracy compromise. The year to come will be critical for the Fox administration and for Mexico. In order to break the gridlock of party politics, President Fox and the Congress must focus on the issues important to the well being of Mexico.
First and foremost, an accommodation of the divergent views on fiscal reform is necessary to give Mexico the strongest footing possible to weather the current economic downturn and to prepare itself to take advantage of the eventual recovery of the global economy. The need for such reform has been cited not only within Mexico but by international observers as well.
The administration and Congress need to work together on reforming the energy sector. This has long been a sensitive issue but must be addressed in order to provide the energy needed to power the country's industry and to take advantage of the nation's wealth of natural resources. While the privatization of the state-run Petroleos de Mexico (Pemex) is not on the table, there are areas that can and should be opened to the private sector such as methane gas, LNG, non-associated natural gas, coal and nuclear power.
Other complex issues must also receive concentrated attention in Mr. Fox's second year. The fight against narco-trafficking and terrorism must be sustained. Border control activities must be emphasized. And the administration must dramatically expand its programs to root out corruption and to expand the prosperity to all of Mexico by massively increasing job training and elementary and secondary education, which promote sustainable economic well-being.
President Fox has been commended in his first year for generating dozens of good ideas for fundamentally reforming Mexico and for his vision of what Mexico can become as a fully recognized and respected first world country.
But he has also been criticized significantly for his lack of tangible success in implementing those ideas and vision.
With an approval rating many presidents would envy, Mr. Fox will need to turn some of his proposals into a reality if he hopes to combat the negative perception beginning to be more frequently heard from his critics.
He will have to concentrate on just two or three major issues and record successes in order to sustain the perception and reality of presidential power. Two of our most successful recent presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton focused on only a few policy issues at a time. Achievement of those few goals created a reputation for historical success. Mr. Fox would do well to emulate their style. His place in Mexican history may depend upon it.

James R. Jones is co-chairman of Manatt Jones Global Strategies and a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico (1993-1997).

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