Vicente Fox: Why America and Mexico Should Work Together

Former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox

Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico from 2000-06, delivered a spirited defense of free trade and the benefits of US-Mexican economic cooperation, saying “we have to work together because we have a dream together – that we can do much better.” Speaking at a LAWAC dinner on Wednesday, September 27th, Fox criticized plans to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and said the only way to stop the violence surrounding drug smuggling is to legalize all drugs.

Fox – a frequent critic of President Trump’s statements about Mexico - opened his speech with a wry smile: “Thank you for letting us be here. Sometimes I think I’m going to lose my visa.” Reminding the audience that his own grandfather was born in Ohio before moving south to resettle in Mexico, Fox said everyone in the room had an immigrant heritage and that “this nation is built on immigrants, it is one of the reasons it is so successful.” He said the idea of building a wall between the two countries for 35 billion dollars made no sense – “you could pay all the teachers in the world for a year with that money.” He also said the Chinese built a Great Wall to keep out the Mongols and the Manchus “and they just jumped the wall and conquered China!” Fox then pointed to the wall dividing East and West Berlin, saying, “Reagan came along and said ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’…And here we are again, making the same mistake: some people don’t read history.”

Amidst laughter from the audience, Fox said “But if you want to build a wall - build it! Waste your money! But be assured, we are not going to pay for that f***ing wall!”

The way to control the flow of migrants across the border is to grow the Mexican economy. “Twenty-five years ago you could make one dollar working in Mexico, compared to ten dollars for jumping a wall or swimming a river – what human being can resist that incentive?” But today Mexico has reduced the incentive by creating better jobs south of the border. “We have regions of Mexico with full employment – some parts are growing faster than China.” And this should be welcomed in the US too: “Who wants to live next to a poor neighbor?”

Fox said that when NAFTA was being negotiated in the 1990’s, Mexicans were anxious. “We knew we could not compete, but we were convinced to join NAFTA and we learned we had to develop our human capital to compete.” Today Fox says “we need a more effective NAFTA”, and expressed his support for the ongoing negotiations to update the 1994 trade agreement between Mexico, the US and Canada. “Mexico is willing to sit down and discuss. But if you were called rapists and criminals, what would be your reaction? The future is to use common sense, wisdom and reason.”

Fox also warned against the dangers of authoritarian rulers. “We have suffered from those dictators, those demagogues in South America. And they ask us today why we didn’t progress – because we expected everything from those dictators. But you cannot have one person telling you he will fix everything… I call these people false prophets.”