Fox says U.S. slowdown has tarnished shine of Mexico’s economy |

Fox says U.S. slowdown has tarnished shine of Mexico’s economy

MEXICO CITY (AP) – President Vicente Fox said Tuesday that the U.S. slowdown is delaying the economic boom he promised Mexico, and he vowed to make his country a world leader – cooperating closely with his good friend George W. Bush.

In an interview with executives and directors of The Associated Press, Fox said he engages in a lively, back-and-forth exchange with the U.S. president.

”We talk on the phone. He says, ‘Fox, it’s your turn, now move.’ So I move. And I say, ‘Now you have to.’ So we’re really working like partners,” Fox said, speaking in English.

”We are playing the role of being a bridge to Latin America,” he said, adding that the two presidents have worked together on issues regarding Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba.

Bush took office only seven weeks after Fox, and shares his taste for cowboy boots and life on the ranch. But Fox said the two still have many differences – he called the U.S. embargo on Cuba ”nonsense” – and said Mexico would seek a more forceful, independent foreign policy. It is already campaigning for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

”We want to move Mexico from being a country that hides away to a country that participates in global affairs, to be one of those 10 or 15 nations that conducts the world,” he said. ”We want to be in that sphere.”

Fox said he has strengthened the Mexican economy, and boasted that interest rates under his administration have fallen from 18 percent to 8 percent, forcing banks to begin lending money again to make a profit.

But Fox said the U.S. economic slowdown is holding Mexico back – he has revised his growth estimates for this year from 4.5 percent to 2.5 percent – and jokingly appealed for intervention from Mexico’s patron saint.

”We need to go to the Basilica and pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe so the United States comes back,” he said. ”Because we have everything to move, except that markets are extremely slow.”

Fox described a scandal over $443 towels and $1,060 sheets purchased for the presidential residence as an example of his government’s openness. He said previous governments would never have disclosed such expenditures.

He has pledged to fire those responsible, and told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he would announce the names soon, adding that they include close aides.

”Some people very close to me, dear friends, they have problems,” he said.

Fox took office on Dec. 1 as the first opposition president after 71 years of single-party rule. He said his administration would soon ask congress to create a citizens’ ”truth commission” to investigate past political misdeeds.

But he advocated a limited role for the commission, saying it must have a clear time frame and a carefully defined scope.

”I think people in Mexico are much more (eager) to have income, to have something to eat, to have their kids in school, to have a health system,” he said. ”And if we keep confronting ourselves that will never happen.”

Many Mexicans have demanded the opening of secret archives about a 1968 massacre of students, the army’s ”disappearance” of leftists in the 1970s and other shadowy episodes in Mexico’s past.

”We need to look to the future and forget about the past, forgive the past,” Fox said.

He promoted his long-term goal of improving Mexico’s economy enough so that the United States could open its borders to its southern neighbor within 20 years.

He suggested the United States could aid Mexico, much as wealthier European countries helped diminish the gap between their economies and those of Spain, Portugal and Greece before they joined together in the European Union.

”We’re thinking in the long term we can open our borders,” Fox said. ”All we have to do is narrow that gap.”

Fox said the United States needs to realize that Mexican migrants are essential to U.S. economic growth.

”We must move from seeing migration as a problem to seeing it as an opportunity,” he said.

He proposed a program to legalize migrants already in the United States, giving them temporary permits in areas where there are domestic labor shortages, such as in gardening, construction and software design. Fox already has the support on that idea of Bush and of U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, who plans to introduce a bill in the U.S. Congress.

”Those Mexicans that are working in the United States should be considered legally working in the United States,” Fox said. ”It’s legal, it’s fair, it’s convenient for the United States. That’s why they are there.”

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