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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Challenges ahead for Fox
By Nick Miles
In Mexico City

President Fox with street children in Mexico
More than half the population live in poverty
Mexico is a country undergoing unprecedented social and political changes.

Three years ago Vicente Fox won the presidential election, bringing to an end seven decades of one party rule under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI.

President Fox promised to tackle the widespread corruption that had dominated Mexican political life and reduce poverty levels.

His goals were ambitious but the polls show that many Mexicans are disillusioned by the lack of progress.

Corruption scandals continue, even the legality of his own presidential campaign funding is under scrutiny, and recent figures show that more than half of Mexico's 100 million people are living in poverty.

As Mexicans prepare to go vote in mid-term elections on 6 July they look likely to give President Fox and his National Action Party a bloody nose.

The PRI already holds the most seats in Congress and in the upcoming elections it is likely to increase that advantage, making it even harder for President Fox to push through reformist policies like privatising the energy sector of the economy.

US recession

In fairness to President Fox he is not entirely responsible for his government's unpopularity - global events over the past three years have not been kind to him.

Mexico has the world's ninth largest economy but relies heavily on the US economy for its wellbeing.

The recession in the US in the run-up to and after the terrorist attacks of 11 September has hit Mexican exports to its northern neighbour hard.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the component factories along the northern border with the US have been lost to countries like China which can offer cheaper labour.

The US focus on fighting terrorism has also put off any agreement on one of the cornerstones of President Fox's candidacy in 2000 - an accord to legalise the status of the four million undocumented Mexican workers living in the US.

Drugs arrests

In other areas, such as fighting corruption and drug trafficking President Fox can claim a degree of success. The arrest of several of the heads of the country's major drug cartels has won him praise both at home and abroad.

Internationally Mexico's profile has perhaps never been as high. Its membership of the United Nations Security Council, when it pushed for a diplomatic resolution to the Iraq crisis, was a poisoned chalice, but by not buckling in the face of pressure from Washington, President Fox gained in stature.

Mexico is increasingly trying to look past the United States, to develop stronger diplomatic and economic ties with the Pacific Rim countries and the European Union. That will of course be a long-term goal lasting well beyond President Fox's term in office which ends in 2006.




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