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Vicente Fox Quesada was born in Mexico City on July 2, 1942 to a Mexican father and
a Spanish mother but moved, as a child, to San Francisco del Rincón,
Guanajuato. On the Rancho San Cristóbal, he and his eight siblings (he
was the second child) lived a comfortable life. His family was well-off; he was
sent to Jesuit schools in León, Guanajuato. Year later when he had become a
politician, he would assert that he had empathy for the poor, that many of the
neighboring children with whom he played were very capable but did not have
opportunities because they were poor. were not, so he saw what poverty was and
could do. He had opportunities they did not and was able to study in private
schools such as the Jesuit-run Universidad Iberoamericana, majoring in
Business Administration. He always had a commanding presence. Tall and lanky,
Vicente towered over most of his classmates. Moreover, he often wore
"cowboy" clothes because of his ranching background, quite different
from the usual urban student attire. He had self-confidence. He left Mexico for
a time to study management at Harvard University in the United States, a country
to which his paternal grandfather had immigrated from Ireland.
In 1964, at age 22, he joined the Coca-Cola Company of Mexico and did well. He began as a route supervisor, learning how the company sold and distributed its product. He also learned much about his country as he traveled through the back country as well as in urban areas. By age 33, he became president of Coca-Cola Mexico; by age 37, he was president of the Latin American division of Coca-Cola. He was charming, ambitious, well-organized, bilingual, and wealthy. Returning to Guanajuato, he built and ran Grupo Fox, a company which produced and sold agricultural and livestock products as well as shoes. His fortune grew. He was a councilor of the Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce to further his business interests and for the camaraderie.
He was the founder and president of the Foundation Casa Cuna Amigo Daniel which helped children. He was president of the Loyola Foundation which helped the León campus of the Universidad Iberoamericana and of the Lux Institute, an education effort. He has four adopted children: Ana Cristina, Vicente, Paulina y Rodrigo.
In the 1980s, Manuel J. Clouthier, the 1988 PAN presidential candidate, persuaded him to join the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). In 1988, he was elected to the 3rd District of León, Guanajuato. Naturally, he was most interested in agricultural and farming issues.
He "lost" the 1991 gubernatorial election in Guanajuato but Ramón Aguirre Velázquez of the Partido Revolucionario (PRI), the government's party, was declared the winner in what many consider to be a fraudulent election. President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, pressured by the ensuing turmoil, had the election annulled and appointed Carlos Medina Plascencia of PAN. Vicente Fox laid low until 1995, when he ran in the special gubernatorial and won by a large margin but PAN was a minority in the state legislature. As Governor, he used people from other parties in his administration, a practice he would also adopt as President. He promoted economic growth including getting outside investment. Guanajuato became the 5th largest state economy.
Although he disliked President Salinas because of the 1991 election. Salinas was indirectly responsible for Fox's election as Mexican President. Salinas had been declared the winner by 51% in the 1988 presidential election after voting machine difficulties. Many believed his opponent won, so his term, 1988-1994, was difficult. At the end of his term, Salinas and others had the constitution amended to allow Mexicans whose parents were foreigners to be President, thus opening a door for Vicente Fox.1 He walked through it.
He won the PAN nomination and garnered the support of the Mexican Green Party, forming the Alliance for Change. He wrote a campaign autobiography, Vicente Fox a Los Pinos, and campaigned strenuously, often in shirt sleeves. Because so many believed that Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) had won the election in 1988 and because Francisco Labastida Ochoa, of PRI carried the burden not only of that election controversy but also of the unpopularity of many of President Salinas' policies, Fox won the election with 43 percent of the vote. Elected on July 2, 2000, his 58th birthday, he not only broke the PRI monopoly but had become the first opposition candidate since 1910 to win.
Governing proved more difficult than he thought. PAN was a minority in Congress and none of the other political parties wanted him and PAN to succeed. Even PAN was not always cooperative because he seemed more interested in promoting himself rather than PAN and appointed some non-panistas to positions, thus reducing the number of patronage jobs available to the party. He exacerbated his governing problems by sending important issues to Congress to decide, the constitutional approach, instead of using the powers of the Presidency to impose his will. Efforts to reduce the federal bureaucracy failed in the face of resistance from federal employees, current and future. He was honest, a surprise. His promise to solve the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) within 15 minutes was "cowboy" braggadocio; he did turn down the heat. He created a national system of medical insurance called Seguro Popular which extended coverage to families, mostly self-employed and part-time workers and for certain catastrophic illnesses for children and senior citizens, who had not been covered by existing programs. After years of hyperinflation, he slowed the inflation rate to single digits, restoring consumer and investor confidence. Reforms in public housing programs caused more and more affordable houses to be built. He also took on the drug cartels but with mixed results. In foreign policy, he tried to get closer to George W. Bush but whatever personal relationship the two may have established did not translate into any new benefits for Mexico. In fact, Mexico under Fox joined the vast majority of the world's countries in opposing Bush's war against Iraq.
His personal life provided a modicum of excitement for the public. On his birthday on July 2, 2001, he married Marta Sahagún Jiménez in the presidential residence, Los Pinos. A few years later, politicians feared that she would run for President in 2006. Opposition became so intense that they publicly renounced any ambitions she may have had.
Fox wanted his Secretary of Interior2, Santiago Creel to be the PAN candidate but Felipe Calderón won the PAN primaries and, subsequently, seemed to have won the presidency by a plurality.
Vicente Fox Quesada was the first democratic president since Francisco I. Madero (1910-1913) and, like Madero, he was too optimistic. Still, he represented democracy returning to Mexico.
Donald J. Mabry
_____________________________1. Article 82 of the Constitution of 1917 stipulated that both parents of the President had to be native born. Mexico had suffered at the hands of foreigners so many times that many people were xenophobic.