Mexico's president-elect heads north this week with his vision of a virtually borderless continent.
Vicente Fox's model is the European Union. His reality, though, is a region divided by economic disparity. Mexicans still earn a fraction of what Canadians and US citizens do, and the gravitational pull of economic opportunity still creates a huge problem of illegal immigration.
That's on top of that other big south-north problem - drug trafficking, much of which flows through Mexico.
Mr. Fox argues that the only solution to the problems washing across
the Mexican-US border
is sustained economic growth in Mexico. And the only way to get that, he says, is a commitment by the US and Canada to invest heavily in his country. He envisions a development fund with capital of $10 billion or more - probably disbursed through the existing North American Development Bank.
Pointing again to Europe, he invokes the $35 billion set aside by the EU to help its poorer members.
North America, however, is a long way from the European Union. Still, Fox's basic point is well taken. Mexico's economic progress, in tandem with the political progress embodied by Fox, is critical.
But the politics of his proposals are, at best, difficult. Washington tends to focus on illegal immigration and narcotics when it glances Mexico's way. The politicians Fox will talk to - notably Al Gore and George W. Bush - can't afford to downplay those issues. And the prospect for massive financial aid from Washington is dim at present.
But a number of factors are aligned in Fox's favor. First, his standing as Mexico's wave of the future after 70 years of one-party rule. Second, the desire of both US presidential candidates to have close ties with Mexico, and with Mexican-American voters. Third, Fox has intriguing ideas for addressing both the immigration and drug issues.
Give more Mexicans work visas, he says for starters, and do away with the yearly process of certifying Mexico's antidrug efforts in favor of stronger multilateral teamwork. These ideas may not find immediate acceptance in Washington (see story, page 1). But they should stimulate fresh thinking.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society