Fox's ideas get cool reception

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox laid out his vision Thursday for reshaping the borderlands to Democratic leaders, who quickly sidestepped the thorny issue.

Mr. Fox, undaunted by the cool treatment his proposal has received on his North American trip, will bring the issue Friday to Dallas where he will meet privately with Mexican immigrants, area business leaders and Gov. George W. Bush.

In his first meeting with President Clinton since his historic election victory on July 2, Mr. Fox raised the topic of opening up the border to the free flow of people and goods.

As both men stood in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Clinton redirected the topic to address the continuing global economic integration. For example, the relationship with Mexico is undoubtedly the most intense the United States has with any country, given the billions of dollars of trade and the constant bickering over customs and immigration enforcement across a border that stretches more than 2,000 miles.

"Over time you will see growing interdependence in our hemisphere, and I think the Canadians will be a part of that," Mr. Clinton said before taking Mr. Fox to the Oval Office for a private chat. "And I hope our friends in Central America and South America and the Caribbean will be a part of that. It is – it will be – the way of the world."

Mr. Clinton, added, however that laws must be upheld.

"Obviously, we have borders and we have laws that apply to them, and we have to apply them, and so do the Mexicans," he said.

Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore was just as diplomatic, refusing to answer questions as he strolled with Mr. Fox on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory, where the vice president maintains his official residence.

"I understand that he's talking about very large ideas for a long period of time, so I want to hear it for myself," Mr. Gore said.

Mr. Fox described his meetings, which included lunch with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as "extremely friendly" and "very constructive."

Even so, some analysts and officials on both sides of the border refer to Mr. Fox's idea as "interesting" and "intriguing," but one that comes at a "bad time." With Mr. Clinton on his way out and a presidential campaign in full swing, it's extremely difficult to get either candidate to candidly take a position on the issue, and much less get the American public to pay much attention.

Said one of Mr. Gore's foreign policy advisers: "The vice president is very much interested in listening to details on the president-elect's ideas, especially because he's talking about a long-term vision."

Added Sidney Weintraub, a political and economic analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington: "My main recommendation to the current and next U.S. administration is to build on this sentiment, especially as it relates to economic matters and dealing with narco-traffic, even if some of Fox's specific proposals on migration are politically naïve."

Stimulating ideas

But Mr. Fox stressed that he hadn't come to the United States to negotiate or press for any agreements, or answers, saying the visit was informal, aimed more at generating ideas and getting acquainted with Mr. Clinton and his possible future counterpart, Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush.

The idea, he said, is to get his U.S. and Canadian counterparts to begin to reflect on the relationship on a long-term basis. His goal, he said, is to promote prosperity, no matter the mechanism. Canadian officials said after meeting with Mr. Fox this week that they have qualms about a European Union-style alliance for North America.

On a flight between Austin and New Orleans, Mr. Bush told reporters that he wanted to hear more details about Mr. Fox's border proposal before expressing his opinion. He said he'd elaborate on his position during a speech he's planning to deliver Friday afternoon at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Mr. Fox, the restless political maverick whose win ended 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has stressed that he is a man on a mission. He faces the challenge of reshaping relations between the nations, bringing economic development home and stopping the flow of drugs and his countrymen to the United States.

At the heart of the matter, Mr. Fox repeatedly has said, is the wage disparity between the United States and Mexico that forces thousands of Mexicans north in search of better-paying jobs.

"How do we narrow the disparity?" Mr. Fox asked during a packed news conference after his meetings with Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore. "That's the fundamental problem in this relationship. We never hear about U.S.-Canadian problems, but we do hear about it constantly in our relationship."

A vision for the border

Mr. Fox has said he would like the United States to let in more legal migrants, in exchange for Mexico becoming more diligent in stopping the illegal migration to the United States.

Currently, the United States spends about $1 billion a year to police its southern border. Still, tens of thousands of Mexicans find their way into the United States, often times under inhumane conditions.

Mr. Fox has said the United States should spend less on defending the border and more on creating jobs south of it so that fewer Mexicans feel the urge to migrate.

It's a message that may not be receiving much praise among Americans, but one that's playing well among his countrymen on both sides of the border.

On Wednesday, Mr. Fox made his first U.S. visit as president-elect to the New York City neighborhood known as Spanish Harlem. The former Coca-Cola executive, who has traveled frequently to the United States in the past few years to meet with high-profile business leaders and Wall Street analysts, chose to chow down on tacos with his countrymen.

"It was a very symbolic statement," said Robert Smith, an immigration specialist at New York's Barnard College. "He basically said, 'Before I meet with the powerful elite, the political leaders in Washington and the money people in New York, I'm meeting with the people.' That was a very strong statement."

Meeting local immigrants

In Dallas, preparations were under way for a similar meeting between Mr. Fox and a small group of Mexican immigrant leaders and Mexican-American activists. The meeting will begin at 11 a.m. at the Dallas Museum of Art.

At the museum, Mr. Fox and the entourage will also see an art retrospective of the recently deceased Mexican painter Gunther Gerzo. The Gerzo show was curated by Mexican immigrant Salomon Grimberg. In the museum's Mexican collection are a brilliantly hued ceramic mural by Miguel Covarrubias and several large-scale paintings by Rufino Tamayo.

Other Dallas activities will include a luncheon with business leaders at the University of Texas at Dallas and a private meeting with Mr. Bush.


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