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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mexico's president is part of the problem

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.

LOS ANGELES Mexican President Vicente Fox has fans on both sides of the border. Jose Gonzalez isn't one of them.

While Fox was flying to Los Angeles to wrap up a three-state swing through Utah, Washington and California, the 39-year-old San Diego resident was also headed to the City of the Angels aboard a train. A human-rights activist who champions the cause of Mexico's beleaguered indigenous population, Gonzalez wasn't intending to meet up with Fox. He was on his way to participate in a protest against the governor of his home state of Oaxaca, who was also visiting California.

I sat next to Gonzalez while on my way to attend a couple of invitation-only events with the Mexican president, including a dinner hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Gonzalez wasn't invited, but he couldn't have cared less.

"I wouldn't waste my time on Fox," he said.

For Gonzalez, who came to the United States from Mexico illegally 25 years ago and went through the process to become a legal resident and then a U.S. citizen, the Fox presidency is a letdown. The main reason: Not enough jobs have been created in Mexico, and so more people than ever are fleeing to the United States.

It's fascinating. In Mexico, the elites take pride that Mexicans abroad send home nearly $20 billion a year. But for Gonzalez, that figure is a national embarrassment an advertisement of a government's failure to provide sufficient opportunity for its own people.

That's the tension devouring Mexico: The elites want to help get more rights for Mexicans in the United States; the immigrants themselves just want better-paying jobs at home so they won't have to go to the United States in the first place.

Fox and the National Action Party (PAN) rode an initial wave of popularity after snatching the presidency from the clutches of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held the reins for more than 70 years. But for Gonzalez, the PAN and the PRI are about as different as Visa and MasterCard. All they care about, he insisted, is taking care of the rich the relative handful of powerful and ultra-wealthy people who, according to Gonzalez, actually run Mexico.

Neither party is doing anything to address what Gonzalez would say is the greatest challenge facing Mexico improving the treatment of the nation's indigenous population. For dark-skinned Indians in Mexico, the future is dim.

Still, I asked, doesn't Fox deserve credit for reaching out to Mexicans in the United States? Before Fox came along, these castaways had long been ignored by Mexico's ruling elite. Not so fast, Gonzalez said. If Fox really wanted to help the estimated 6 million to 8 million illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the United States, he said, the answer is to create jobs at home so that Mexicans don't have to leave their country and families to search for work.

Mexicans are not your typical immigrants, it seems.

"We're not here for the American Dream," Gonzalez said. "We're here to survive."

At various times during his U.S. trip, Fox said his government would "continue expanding jobs in Mexico so that migration is no longer a necessity."

Gonzalez doesn't believe it. So I had to ask: What would he do to make a better Mexico if he were presidente for a day?

Three things, he said:

  • Tackle police corruption; people have no incentive to be productive if they're constantly being fleeced and robbed by those who are supposed to protect them.

  • Stop penalizing employers and small businesses; cutting licensing fees would allow companies to create more jobs and pay higher wages.

  • Clean up the environment by punishing companies that plunder natural resources and lay waste to the countryside and waterways.

    Fox hadn't done enough in those areas, Gonzalez insisted.

    He's all talk and no action. A mentiroso (liar), he said.

    Eventually, we arrived at our destination and went our separate ways. Before we did, I asked one last question: Was there anything he would like me to tell Fox on his behalf?

    He thought for a few seconds, and then he shook his head and said: "Tell him ... what a shame."

    I never got the chance to deliver the message. Afraid that he might say the wrong thing and upset the progress being made in Congress, Fox didn't grant any interviews during his trip. Too bad. Readers demand that I criticize the Mexican president for not doing enough for his own people.

    Why bother? As a product of the United States, I couldn't possibly improve on the critique offered by one of the runaway children of Mexico.

    Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union Tribune. Reach him at ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com.