FOX presents first state of the union speech

Saturday, September 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Vowing ``I am not going to fail you,'' President Vicente Fox told Mexicans on Saturday that his government has avoided the crisis that critics had predicted.

In a weekly radio program hours before his first state of the union speech, Fox said that his Dec. 1 inauguration, which ended 71 years of single-party rule, was historic.

``Many people thought we would destroy the country, that there would be crisis, that there would be devaluations. And look: now nine months have passed and nothing extraordinary has happened.''

Fox insisted that his government has improved aid to farmers, schools and health care and has overseen increases in wages, though he admitted that some 215,000 workers have lost their jobs.

But protests by farmers, union members and university students denouncing Fox's free-market policies snarled traffic Saturday around the Congress building where Fox was to deliver his report _ a solemn ritual that in recent years has also been a playground of political protest.

Fox himself, then a governor, walked out of the 1999 speech by then-President Ernesto Zedillo, saying he had he had better things to do.

The state of the union speech, known here as the Informe, is even more important in Mexico than in the United States. In most years, it is even an official holiday.

For generations, ``the day of the Informe was literally the day of the president; the occasion to worship ... the current head of the executive branch,'' Fox's national security chief, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, wrote in the newspaper Reforma on Friday.

It was also a fine, nationally televised chance for Mexico's frustrated opposition to register protests against a government that dominated Congress and which, for generations, browbeat much of the press into ignoring or sneering at dissidents.

Then-Congressman Marcos Rascon once wore a rubber pig mask to a presidential Informe.

Fox's walkout from the visitor's gallery during Ernesto Zedillo's 1999 speech was overshadowed by shouting matches and insults among the congressmen during speeches responding to the president.

Newspapers reported that congressmen interrupted one another with shouts of ``clown,'' ``traitor,'' ``usurper,'' ``burro,'' ``quadruped'' and other more piquant terms.

But now that the opposition _ Fox's National Action Party _ has ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year grip on power, his supporters are urging more decorum during the address.

``That ancient regime was buried by the citizens, giving way to a legitimate government,'' Aguilar Zinser said. ``The Informe should no longer be the scene used to insult, beat and criticize on the basis of preconfigured conceptions.''

Some opponents say they might interrupt.

``Let's see what Fox says,'' said Congressman Felix Salgado, who has staged protests during earlier presidential speeches. ``If he begins with his lies, we can't stay silent.

``If he continues with his proposal to tax food and medicine, he will have to hear our response and protest.''

Polls show that Fox remains a popular figure, but the political honeymoon that followed his Dec. 1 inauguration has long since ended.

The PRI, stinging from loss of the presidency, has promised to accuse the president of failing to live up to last year's promises. Fox entered office promising 7 percent annual growth in the economy. This year, aides say growth might reach 1 percent.

Congress so far has blocked his most important bill, a major budget overhaul.

As he walked out of the Informe in 1999, Fox told reporters the whole event was outdated.

If elected, he said, ``I will change this unnecessary ceremony... A government should inform every day.''

When Fox's advisers suggested changes after he took office, Congress rebuffed them. The Informe, they noted, is required by a law passed by and for Congress _ not the president.