Mexican President's sets optimistic tone in state of union address

``Ours is no longer a time of emergency, but one of renovation.'' With those words of hope and confidence, Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado set the tone yesterday for his fifth annual address to the nation. Speaking to a national audience for the last time before his likely successor is revealed, President de la Madrid depicted a country destined to recover from its severe economic crisis - if only the next President follows the path laid by his economic reforms.

Mr. de la Madrid's upbeat tone marked a drastic change from his gloomy 1986 address, which was darkened by plummeting oil prices, a whopping debt load, continuing capital flight, and the aftereffects of the devastating earthquakes of September 1985.

Not all of those symptoms have disappeared. The debt has grown to almost $110 billion. And inflation continues to soar. It is now around a 130 percent annual rate.

But despite that, ``a gradual recovery has begun,'' de la Madrid said. He highlighted the prospects for the economy's foreign sector. Oil prices have jumped from below $10 last year to over $16 a barrel today.

Nonoil exports - last year's lone bright spot - continued to rise over the first seven months of 1987, notching a 26 percent increase over the same period last year. Perhaps the most surprising statistic of all is that Mexico's monetary reserves have leaped to $14.6 billion, $10 billion more than this time last year. The President did not clarify, however, how he might take advantage of the bulging reserves.

Inflation and foreign debt remain pernicious problems. Resigned to see inflation high but steady, de la Madrid said he is seeking a balance between growth and inflation: ``Helping inflation at the expense of growth would create new and worse imbalances, and reckless growth would expose us to hyperinflation.''

On the debt issue, de la Madrid called for concessions from international banks, pointing out that Mexico has not flouted the demands of international lending institutions, as have Peru and Brazil. By carrying out internal belt-tightening reforms, he said, Mexico has avoided ``the open confrontations, defiant rhetoric, and demagogic practises that stand in the way of real progress.''

Despite its 106 pages, however, the speech was also notable for what it left unsaid. Unlike last year, when the President came armed with ideas for emerging from the crisis, this year's speech contained no new policies or proposals. Mexico's relations with the US - which touch everything from trade to tourism, illegal drugs to immigration - merited only eight sentences. And the recent public naming of the ruling party's six presidential candidates, an unprecedented action for the long-closed ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, received no direct mention.

The entire subject of the upcoming succession, in fact, was skirted. But one thing does seem clear about de la Madrid's vision of the future: He expects his successor to doggedly pursue the economic reforms he started.

``We must travel the remainder of the road that lies ahead with the help of what has been achieved,'' he said. ``A major consolidation effort lies before us.''

But for political analysts searching for clues to the President's successor, there were no clear messages. For while de la Madrid feels economic continuity is imperative, he said that social conflicts will require political resolutions not just economic expertise.

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