On July 2, 2000 the world's attention was fixed on Mexico when Vicente Fox (born 1942) pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of winning the country'spresidency and toppling the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after more than 70 years in power.
Ironically, the day Fox (full name: Vicente Fox Quesada) won the election happened to be his birthday. He was born July 2, 1942 in Mexico City but was raised on a communal farm in the state of Guanajuato near Leon. His father was a rancher of Irish descent and his mother came from Spain. Fox also spent time in the United States, first in Wisconsin where he attended Campion High School in Prairie du Chien, for one year; then at Harvard University.
In 1964 he was hired by the Coca-Cola Company, after studying business management at Mexico City's Iberoamerican University. Ten years later he was named president of Coca-Cola of Mexico. In 1979 the company sought to promote Fox to head its entire Latin American division. However, the job would have required a move to Miami and he declined the offer. His decision evoked an epiphany for Fox who then decided to quit the Coca-Cola Company altogether and return to his family ranch and boot making business in Guanajuato.
After nine years Fox was approached by leaders of the National Action Party (PAN), a conservative group opposed to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). They asked to run for a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, the Lower House of the Mexican congress. He accepted the challenge and won in the 1988 election. After serving a three-year term he decided to run for governor of the state of Guanajuato in 1991. The election turned out to be a highly controversial one. Fox, the eventual runner-up in a three way race, charged his opponent with fraud.
Over the next few years Fox was politically inactive. Although popular and charismatic, he was not seen as a presidential contender until Article 82 of the Mexican Constitution was revised in 1993. That article had stated that a presidential candidate had to be born in Mexico and be "the child of parents who are Mexican by birth." Because Fox's mother came from Spain the presidency was never a consideration of his until the revision. However the revision was not slated to take effect until the 2000 election, not the upcoming one in 1994.
Fox came out of political retirement following PAN's disastrous showing in the 1994 elections. He advocated a more militant approach as a means of reviving PAN, including street marches and coalitions with leftist parties. The strategy proved successful, at least for Fox. In 1995 he campaigned for the governorship of Guanajuato once again, and this time came out the victor with 59.8 percent of the vote. At the time it was considered the worst defeat for PRI in its history. Fox, however, was not satisfied. In various interviews suggested that PAN needed to shed its conservative image and embrace more moderate social welfare positions. It was the beginning of PAN's move toward the center-right and its attraction to leftists.
In January 1998 Governor Fox announced he was seeking the PAN nomination for the presidency in the 2000 election. It was an unprecedented move in both the early start to his campaign and the brashness of seeking the nomination rather having it handed to him. Fox countered criticism saying that he needed the extra time if he was to oust the PRI and that criticism was mostly from envious rivals. Once again Fox's brash strategy paid off. He was nominated by PAN to run for the presidency of Mexico. His main opponents were PRI-candidate Francisco Labastida Ochoa and Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (DRP).
In April 2000, just as Fox was beginning to make headway in the pre-election polls, he was interviewed by Sergio Munoz of the Los Angeles Times. He named violent crime as Mexico's biggest problem and foresaw an annual seven percent economic growth rate under his administration that included selective privatization. "I believe the free market generates wealth," Fox said, "but the state should intervene, selectively and temporarily, to ensure sustainable development." Regarding NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada, and the United States) Fox declared, "I feel we must go ahead with a new phase. We must begin to talk to Canada and the United States to include the free flow of people under NAFTA. What is needed—and I know it sounds a bit too strong now—is to have the three countries evolving into a common market, an association that, in the long term, will reduce the brutal wage differential among the three countries."
Later that same month Fox was the clear winner in a presidential debate and political pundits were seriously beginning to think he had a chance of pulling off the upset of the century. In May 2000 he delivered a speech in California aimed at both the state's Mexican residents and its leaders. Following a second presidential debate in late May (which had no clear-cut winner) post-debate polls showed Fox and Labastida were in a virtual dead heat.
Throughout his campaign Fox hammered home the message that it was time to get rid of the PRI. He also sought to court the left and his message appealed to a number of leftists despite the presence of a DRP candidate. As the campaign wound down Fox threatened civil action in the form of PAN-sponsored protests if the election were to prove fraudulent—initially citing a less than ten percent margin of victory as the benchmark, though he later amended that figure in a Newsweek interview.
Less than two weeks before the election, Fox was accused of accepting illegal campaign funds from corporations in Belgium and the U.S. The accusations proved untrue and Fox filed a defamation lawsuit, though for a few days he was sidetracked in a struggle to clear his name. In the end Fox was the people's choice, winning 42.5 percent of the vote as opposed to Labastida's 36.1 percent, according to Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute.
Financial Times, January 28, 1998.
Guardian, May 30, 1995.
Houston Chronicle, September 4, 1993; July 3, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1991; September 3, 1994; April 9, 2000; May 9, 2000; July 8, 2000.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 10, 2000.
Newsweek, June 26, 2000.
New York Times, May 27, 2000; June 29, 2000; July 4, 2000.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 9, 1995.
San Diego Union-Tribune, April 28, 2000.