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Beyond the Wall: A Conversation With Vicente Fox

In light of Donald Trump’s recent visit, Pacific Standard chatted with Mexico’s former President Vicente Fox about tensions between the U.S. and Mexico.
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Vicente Fox.

Vicente Fox.

Earlier today, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump met with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. Despite having, in the past, compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, Peña agreed to sit down with Trump to discuss their “bilateral relationship,” specifically the border wall and immigration. Peña believed that he and Trump could get along “even though we do not agree on everything,” according to the New York Times.

Many Mexicans have responded to Trump’s trip south with rage and confusion. On Twitter, #SrTrumpConTodoRespeto (typically followed by a series of expletives) reigns as the top trend in Mexico, and a barrage of hateful anti-Trump tweets continue to roll in by the seconds.

Trump has called Mexicans criminals and rapists, and has threatened to build a 55-foot wall traversing the entire border between the United States and Mexico (for which he claims Mexico would foot the bill). His hateful rhetoric has spurred a widespread anti-Trump movement down south, the face of which could very well be former President Vicente Fox. Fox made headlines in February after famously telling journalist Jorge Ramos, “I’m not going to pay for that fucking wall.”

Pacific Standard followed up with Fox about his criticisms of Trump, his feelings on immigration, and solutions to violence and poverty in Mexico.


Why did you tell Trump, “I’m not paying for that fucking wall!” and then apologize for doing so? Why was an apology necessary?

In the apology I tried to establish a dialogue to influence his horrible positions. He is so selfish, so stubborn that he didn’t take the apology. So I don’t feel bad about it, I just can’t handle it. Nobody defeated him except himself.

Do you think he’s self-sabotaging his campaign?

Sabotaging is not the right word. Try to convince his followers that they’re following a false prophet, that he’s ignorant about the economy about international politics, about policy, about serving as a public servant. He’s totally ignorant about the core things that integrate a successful leader in politics. He’s appealing to people’s fear, fear of violence, and that’s why he speaks about a wall.

Do you think a businessperson could make for a good president in the U.S.?

I was a businessperson. It’s a profound change to serve in the private sector, to be a CEO, and a leader in the private sector, which he is not, by the way. His money comes from his father. He’s not even a good role model as a businessman. Businessmen moving into politics, you have a learning process that takes you a couple of years to understand politics from the very basic, at the municipal level, at the local congress, then governor, you need to experience this. It’s absolutely stupid to elect a president of the most powerful, successful nation of the world, to elect somebody who doesn’t have this experience.

What do you think about Barack Obama? Would you have gotten along with him?

He’s been learning and lately I see that he’s more and more on the right track of making the U.S. keep growing and keep expanding. I think he’s becoming a great leader, and I think that’s exactly what political opinion thinks in the U.S., he will be in history one of the great presidents of that great nation. Yes [I would have gotten along with him]. I repeat that I’m not a democratic fan. But I still recognize that in him.

What would be an ideal immigration plan for the U.S.?

Good question. The answer has been sitting in Congress since 10 years ago, when President George W. Bush and my administration tackled the issue and came up with a very strong, profound, sustainable solution. That was then taken by Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator John McCain, both of them came to Mexico, sat down with me and my team for a week’s time and then the bill was presented to Congress. A bipartisan bill that has been sitting there, Congress has not had the courage to take the bull by the horns and solve in definite terms the problem of immigration in the U.S. and with Mexico.

It’s very unfortunate that Congress has been lazy and has not tackled the issue. What are the contents? Three things: No. 1, all those in the U.S. that are undocumented that do have a job, they would be allowed to stay as long as they have the job. No. 2, that reform begins with the future and it says as long as the U.S. economy is running at the speed of 2.5 percent or more of gross product growth, 500,000 imported workers are needed for the U.S. economy and then this would be what is happening that every year there would be a guest worker program to invite workers to work and then go back when they finished after whatever the work they were hired for, and thirdly is the compassionate side which is families cannot be divided. Sons from the fathers, fathers from the mothers. That’s criminal. The families have to be able to stay together, they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. with the worker that is now documented. That’s the now, real good reform to be implemented.

According to Laura Carlsen, the director of the Americas program at the Center for International Policy, as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, 20 million Mexicans live in “food poverty” and one-fifth of Mexican children suffer from malnutrition.

False. You cannot attribute the statistics and results to only one single variable. When NAFTA started in the case of Mexico, you would make, let’s say the equivalent of one dollar when you work in Mexico. Then by learning to swim or to jump walls you crossed the border and you were making 10 dollars. So it was a ratio of 10-to-one between the U.S, side and the Mexican side. Twenty-five years after, one generation of NAFTA, today the ratio is five-to-one. You make one-dollar income in Mexico and then you make five dollars in the U.S. This is my forecast that, in the next generation, the next 25 years will be one-to-one. There are so many things that are happening among our two economies there are so many people crossing, one million a day in the border, there is such a huge trade exchange of product and services. There is such a huge exchange of education and technology that to communicate pesos this will level up, and we will reach the point of one-to-one income just as it is in Canada and the U.S. today.

I tell you the U.S. will regret, regret a thousand times to change NAFTA or worse off to get out of NAFTA. The one economy that is going to pay a price is the U.S. economy. Without NAFTA, the U.S. economy will be weakened. No jobs are going to be created, consumers are going to pay much more for the product that they’re importing, that’s the policy of President Herbert Hoover over a hundred years ago, and that’s what brought the big profound recession to the depression in the U.S. That’s what will happen if this crazy guy gets to sit in the presidential chair of the U.S.

So as a whole you think NAFTA was a good plan?

No, it can be improved. For example, education isn’t there, neither is a world money market. For instance, the migration issue isn’t included and the technology exchange is not included. Patents aren’t well regulated. Many things could improve NAFTA. But the core, basic principle of trading is there and has been very successful for the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. I would keep the basic trading principles and improve it by other ways.

What about unemployment and the half a million jobless Mexicans who migrate to the U.S per year?

Many people don’t believe it, unemployment in Mexico is 3.2 percent. That’s why more and more are coming back than going into the U.S. The way we measure in the whole of the world of unemployment is not that you have a job with a corporation, or that you created your own job, or that you work for government. Employment means that you have income. It could be selling Chiclets in the street. It can be working in the rural areas. It can be buying and selling or creating your own business, or being an entrepreneur, or any kind of job that generates income for you. So most people — 96 percent of people — are doing that.

Most Americans don’t realize that Mexico is the 12th largest export economy in the world. Why do you think that is?

Because we are very chingones [Editor’s Note: translates to “badasses”]. We are diligent, hard-working people, highly appreciated in the U.S. and in Mexico. There’s no other place in the world right now that you can manufacture with the efficiency, the productivity, the quality, and the cost that you can do in Mexico. We’re over and above China today. That’s what makes us very competitive and very attractive to foreign investment. Trump thinks it’s only the U.S. that’s investing in Mexico; we have German investment, Spanish, French, Russian investment, Chinese investment. Mexico is the spot to manufacture.

Kidnappings have reportedly increased in Jalisco, and, in 2015, 1,161 women were disappeared. How can Mexico put a stop to femicide and drug violence?

That’s true. We have a very deep crisis in violence provoked by cartels and drug trafficking, and that’s why the only effective solution is to legalize drugs. Starting with marijuana. You would take away the money, which gives power to these cartels and makes them so criminal and violent.

Would you legalize other drugs?

Yes, I would, step by step. The philosophy behind this is that we human beings we’re all free, and we should make responsible decisions. We should not be imposed behaviors by government or by religion, or by anybody else; once we have the information we should make our own decisions. If you want to consume drugs, do it! If you want to kill yourself by consuming drugs, do it! It’s your own free will. I know that Washington, Colorado, California very soon, [as well as] Portugal, Holland, Uruguay, and other countries have taken the step.

Well, they’ve legalized marijuana. Would you legalize all drugs? Cocaine? Heroine? Other street drugs?

Yes, everything, step by step. I repeat: The fundamental principle is we human beings should decide if we want abortion, if we want to smoke cigarettes, if we want to marry a person of the same sex. The same thing with drugs. We should be left free to decide. As long as we have information, education, studying from the school and family, we will make the right decisions.

What would you have done differently as president?

Nothing. To be president or a reporter, or businessperson or priest, you make decisions according to the information that you have in accordance with the inquiries that you make with your team. And in the political arena, you need to make decisions in accordance with public opinion. Some of them go well, others turn out poorly. I’m satisfied with every decision that I made. I’m satisfied with the positive results of the immense majority of the decisions that I made. Things went very well, and that’s why I finished out with a job approval rating of 68 percent. That’s unique, that’s a consequence of working people, being close to people, listening to people, and making decisions in favor of people.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.