Ex-president Fox shakes up Mexico, again

His memoirs, to be published Oct. 4 in English, break the tradition of former leaders slipping away quietly.

For more than seven decades, the game was simple: Mexican presidents got to rule as if they were monarchs, and then they were to disappear and let the new leader reign.

The former heads of state slinked silently away; those who had not yet had their fill of power were forced out, often by public scandal.

Then came Vicente Fox.

Mr. Fox changed the nation when, upon taking the helm of Mexico in 2000, he ended 71 years of authoritarian rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Now he's changing what it means to be a former president of Mexico.

Since his term ended last year, Mr. Fox has joined the lecture circuit in his stated quest to spread global democracy.

He is opening a presidential library, styled not unlike those of former US presidents. He was elected copresident of Centrist Democrat International, a global association of center-right parties. And due out next month are his memoirs in English, in which he weighs in on President Bush's ambition and ability to speak Spanish.

But now the publicity may have backfired. He's been hounded by the local press. And after he and his wife, Marta Sahagun, appeared on the front cover of a magazine with accompanying photos of their lavishly refurbished ranch, Mexicans cried corruption. Lawmakers have formally approved an investigation into the source of Fox's apparent wealth.

An outmoded view of ex-presidents' role

Whether the buzz is good or bad is up for debate. But what it does show, says Jeffrey Davidow, US ambassador to Mexico during part of Fox's administration, is that the country still has an outmoded view of what it means to be both a president and an ex-president.

"I think much of the criticism of Fox for his memoirs, for building a library, and being visible internationally is really a leftover from a system that is now archaic," he says. "People don't know how to adjust to the new mold. It's not good, bad, or otherwise, it's just a new world."

In this new world, Fox's postpresidency is playing out as the most public in the nation's history. He made a splash in May when he invited journalists to his ranch in the state of Guanajuato to reveal plans for a presidential library. But when he and his wife posed for photos of their home in Quién magazine this month, questions were immediately raised as to whether government money contributed to the renovations.

Lino Korrodi, once Fox's campaign finance manager but today a critic, told the local media that Fox did not have the money to repair the ranch during his presidency. "It is evident he got rich during his six years in office, in a very shameless and cynical way," Mr. Korrodi told the daily El Universal last week.

Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, dismissed the accusations. "Ethics, transparency, and full accounting have been permanent standards throughout my life," he wrote in a statement posted on the webpage of his new foundation, the Fox Center. As president, he earned a reported $245,000 and now receives a pension reported to be nearly $270,000 a year.

Supporters: Old guard is resisting change

His supporters say that Fox is a target because the old political guard does not like the changes taking place today. "Just as he introduced a new style of honest, democratic leadership as president, his post-presidential life will be new for Mexico, too," wrote Rob Allyn, who co-wrote Fox's English-language memoirs, in an e-mail message.

"Revolution of Hope: The Life, Faith, and Dreams of a Mexican President," to be published by Viking Oct. 4, is sure to make a splash, as it contains several references to President Bush.

According to the publishers, one passage reads: "Bush evokes the go-getter qualities I've always admired in Americans," Fox writes. "He is, quite simply, the cockiest guy I have ever met in my life." He also writes about Bush's attempt to speak Spanish. While calling it "grade-school level," Fox also admires the effort as a sign of "cultural sensitivity."

While the book's contents may get more attention in the US, the very fact that it is being published at all is what irks so many Mexicans. They are more accustomed to presidents like Fox's predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, who headed to Yale University in New Haven, Conn.,; or Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who went to Ireland, allegedly to avoid a corruption scandal.

"This new role may ruffle some feathers ... but by showing the world that Mexico now has an ex-president who speaks out freely, devotes himself to good causes, and takes leadership on the world stage, Vicente Fox proves that Mexico is ready to take its place among the great democratic nations of the world," wrote Mr. Allyn in his e-mail.

Some say that Fox's quest for the spotlight is an attempt to rewrite history. While he was immensely popular as a "first" for Mexican democracy, critics say he did little to push through real reform. That might ultimately backfire, too, though.

"He came into power on a wave of hope and left many with a very bitter aftertaste," says Cesar Hernandez, a political analyst at the Center of Research for Development in Mexico City. "That has increased in the last month, as he has not gone out of the public debate, but has used every chance to take a public stance."

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