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Mexico

Charisma is not enough

by Virginia Mercado

In brief

 BU: Vincente Fox during a conference in Waco, Texas, in 2005.

BU: Vincente Fox during a conference in Waco, Texas, in 2005.

For decades, Mexico was ruled by a one-party government that was characterised by corruption and inefficiency. The left was incapable of convincing a majority of voters. In 2000, the candidate of the right-wing PAN (Partido Acción Nacional) won. He presented himself as a man of the people, never a politician. Moreover, Vincente Fox clearly expressed many Mexicans’ fervent wish: Sacar al PRI de Los Pinos! Throw the PRI (the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, which had ruled for over 70 years) out of the presidential palace!

Fox was a businessman without any experience in politics. He repeated his slogan like a mantra and ultimately overdelivered on his main campaign promise. Due to the “Fox effect”, the previously governing party lost not only the presidency, but also multiple governor and mayor positions. The event sent a shockwave through the established political powers.

It wasn’t long, however, before people began to realise that Fox’ passionate speeches and charismatic personality were not enough to change structures that had grown up over many decades. Fox was not able to eliminate corruption. He did not keep many other campaign promises either. However, the private sector did flourish during his time in office. The inflation of the peso was lower than since the 1970s or after his rule.

In Mexico, presidents cannot be re-elected after serving a six-year term. Fox’s successor was Felipe Calderón, also a member of the PAN, which orchestrated a smear campaign against his leftist opponent.

Calderón didn’t have Fox’s charisma, and it became even clearer than it had been under Fox that he was unable to change underlying problems like corruption and excessive inequality. But it was his war on drugs, which he justified with his simplistic understanding of law and order that proved to be catastrophic. To date, the drug war has claimed tens of thousands of lives. That is one reason why voters became disenchanted with the PAN and allowed the PRI to retake power.

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