April 20, 2007

Vicente Fox receives award amid criticisms

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox will receive the Award for Democracy and Peace from the Institute of the Americas, at the University of California, San Diego, on Wednesday, April 25.

Fox is receiving the award “in recognition of his significant contribution to the political development of Mexico,” according to the institute’s Board of Directors.

The Award for Democracy and Peace recognizes outstanding contributions to the consolidation of democracy, peace, and economic, political, and social reforms in the Americas. It was first presented to President Raúl Alfonsín of Argentina in 1987.

Fox will be the 12th recipient of the inter-American, non-profit organization’s Award for Democracy and Peace.

“The Board of Directors has decided that Fox did a good job in deepening the democratic institutions in Mexico,” said Jeffrey Davidow, institute president and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico during the first two years’ of Fox in office.

Vicente Fox with his wife Martha Sahagun at his ranch in Guanajuato.

Although Davidow said that the Institute of the Americas has received many calls of support for Fox, when several Tijuana residents heard of the award, they said the former Mexican president didn’t deserve any award.

The major criticism they cite is the electoral controversy that claims that leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was striped of his victory over Fox’s own party Partido Accion Nacional’s candidate Felipe Calderon.

They also claim that Fox “promised too much, did too little.”

“When he was elected in 2000, he gave us hope of a better Mexico after 70 years of PRI rule,” said Federico Ortiz, a Tijuana resident. “But in the practice, he became, in a way, like the Priistas he so much criticized during his campaign.”

Davidow said that Fox’s positive work outweighs his mistakes in office.

“We understand that there are serious criticisms for Fox, but at the end of the day, Mexico is a more democratic country with stronger institutions after six years of Fox,” Davidow said. “The award recognizes that achievement.”

David Carruthers, a political science professor who specializes in Mexican politics at San Diego State University, said that, although Fox was a popular figure, his term disappointed many who believed in him.

“Fox was, of course, much more disappointing as a political actor and as a leader than he was as a campaigner, having promised everything to everyone, and lacking the political skills to deliver on much of any of it,” Carruthers said. “In some respects, that contributed to a new kind of ‘credibility gap’ for democracy. This is a problem in young democracies all over the world — if democracy can’t deliver the goods in terms of performance, it doesn’t develop popular legitimacy.”

But Davidow pointed out that “President Fox truly understood that his election represented an end to Mexican presidencialismo, the top-down control of the nation’s political life. He strengthened the democratic institutions of the country, thus enabling it to withstand challenges emerging from the 2006 elections.”

Carruthers said that there were some positive outcomes of Fox’s presidency.

“He did achieve limited police and judicial reform, and made some marginal improvements in public education,” Carruthers said. “The transparency law (freedom of information) is certainly an important landmark, especially with respect to finally starting to come to terms with the dirty war. In general, things still look better on paper than on the ground, but there has been some progress on this implementation gap, such as some improvements in enforcement, accountability, transparency.”

Another former Mexicanpresident, Ernesto Zedillo, received the Award for Democracy and Peace in 2001. That also caused controversy in the region because of Zedillo’s bad reputation in among the Mexican poor.

Nevertheless, “Zedillo was probably more deserving of recognition for his contribution to Mexican democratization than Fox,” Carruthers said. “Fox got all the publicity, hype, and credit, but bottom line, it was Zedillo who decided to end the dedazo, and it was Zedillo who made the fateful decision not to mobilize the machinery of fraud on July 2, 2000.”

Carruthers summarized they way many Tijuanenses and other Mexicans feel about Fox and his term in office: disappointed.

“Fox’s leadership was disappointing, his electoral behavior in 2006 was disgraceful, and he was really in over his head, more show than substance. But like it or not, the history books have recorded him as the man who brought democracy to Mexico. That’s fiction, of course. The struggle for democratic development has been going on for decades, and continues still. It’s a process, not a moment, and no single figure gets the credit. Like I said, Zedillo had as much to do with the 2000 outcome as Fox did. But there’s no question that he’s a landmark figure, historically, and I suppose that counts for something.”

For further information on the Award for Democracy and Peace, visit www.iamericas. org.

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