'Guardian' of Mexican power

Mexico's delayed revolution resumed on Friday with the inauguration of Vicente Fox as president and the end of a 71-year rule by one party.

Now, instead of generals, lawyers, and, lately, technocrats running the country, former business managers will. And refreshingly, Mr. Fox and his can-do team must share power with other parties.

One piece of his revolution is his hope that every young Mexican "could stay with his [or her] family on this side of the border." The former rancher, Coca-Cola executive, and governor of a border state knows well that only by creating more jobs can he slow the flow of poor economic migrants to the richer United States. No border in the world has such a wide disparity of wealth between neighbors - and for 1,933 miles.

But will the folksy Fox be able to convert his high popularity into real reforms that can make Mexico's leading economic indicator (migration north) go south?

He's off to a fast start. His early actions show he's serious about solving a fundamental problem still restraining Mexico's admirable progress: official dishonesty. The country ranks as one of the most corrupt in the world.

Ending the long reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the July 2 election was only half the task. A party in power for that long has a hard time keeping its fingers out of too many honey pots, or curbing patronage and reducing massive subsidies. The federal government has 1.6 million bureaucrats for 100 million people.

Mexicans are looking to Fox for strong leadership to raise incomes and suppress corruption. Ironically, he's looking to them to abandon their traditional dependence on the government. That calls for a special kind of leadership.

Fox's basic task is to rally people - many living on $5 a day - to stand up to officials who lie, cheat, or steal with impunity. A recent survey of young Mexicans showed only 5 percent have a favorable view of politicians and only 10 percent see police favorably.

In a historic moment, Fox asked his Cabinet choices to swear an oath pledging ethical behavior and to disclose their assets. And he appointed officials who will challenge the entrenched power of the police, military - and the intelligence services, which taped Fox's calls during the campaign.

Fox must still learn how to share power and cut deals with his sizable opposition. The PRI can still block his path. That's why he calls himself only the "guardian" of power, not its owner. And he'll need to manage the high expectations he has raised.

There's no doubt Mexico has made a break with its past.

The question is: How cleanly?

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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