Protest trumps content

September 23rd, 2009 · No Comments · Mexico

By Denise Tessier

New Mexicans this week had the rare opportunity to hear first-hand thoughts from the immediate past president of Mexico – our next-door neighbor nation plagued by drug war violence and the greatest source of our illegal immigration problems. Former president Vicente Fox’s talk at the University of New Mexico’s Popejoy Hall Monday morning was free to all comers.

If one couldn’t attend in person, surely it could be assumed a full account would appear the next day in the Albuquerque Journal.

Unfortunately, the six-sentence wire service account by the Associated Press immediately after Fox’s first lecture Monday morning contained more substance than what print-edition readers of the Journal found on page C-1 the following day. The Journal story focused less on what Fox said than on how much UNM had paid Fox to come – an angle the student paper, the New Mexico Daily Lobo, had already addressed thoroughly in its Monday edition, written before Fox had even stepped on the stage.

Covering campus dissatisfaction with Fox’s $25,000 speaker’s fee is a legitimate angle for the campus newspaper, and the Lobo covered it fairly, giving weight to both the student and faculty objections and to the university’s response that the fee was a “remarkably good deal”, considering fiction authors and columnists are paid at least that (and often more). Plus, Fox was scheduled to give not one, but three guest lectures on campus that day. (Furthermore, the Popejoy event and talk Monday evening at the Centennial Engineering auditorium provided students with access to an expert resource. Seated next to me in Popejoy, for example, was a UNM student writing a paper on immigration for her English class. Fox also was scheduled to talk to health care professionals at the Health Sciences Center.)

Protests about Fox’s speaking fee certainly could merit mention, but they should not have been the focus of coverage by the largest daily in a state that shares a border with Mexico.

Yet, that is what dominated both the headline (“$25,000 for Fox Prompts Protests”) and content of the story’s first seven paragraphs – almost half the 15-graph total. Devoting so much space to the speaker’s fee and student complaints about Fox’s shortcomings as past president – both real and perceived – meant leaving out real content: that is, the thoughts of a Harvard-educated businessman and history-making leader on the subjects of labor, immigration policy and economics.

For those who are interested, here are some of those thoughts (from the Popejoy speech):

Mexico is one of the world’s most diverse nations culturally, home to more than 80 spoken languages, yet it functions in a single language: Spanish. Integration “should be demanded of any migrant,” Fox said, and is a crucial element in maintaining democracy, freedom and patriotism.

Assimilation must be accompanied by education to ensure opportunities and future leaders. With education, “We can change our nations in one generation.”

The reason the United States attracts more migrants from Mexico than Canada is simply the inequity in economics: While Canadian and American incomes are similar, Mexican workers make “one-sixth of the income you make here.”

Europe’s creation of a European Union was intended to reduce such gaps among nations and reduce immigration. Fox said Spain has gone from a $3,000 annual average per capita income to $26,000 – close to that of Germany, France and Britain. Ireland, he said, has had the greatest improvement – from $10,000 a year to $40,000 in annual income. Other nations, such as the Czech Republic, are catching up.

This has been accomplished, he said, through each nation’s payment of 2 percent of its gross domestic product toward equalization. “They don’t question who is it going to be for” but do it “to attain this goal of narrowing the gap.”

Fox also noted that Mexico imports from the United States $250 billion in products, which he said is more than Italy, France, Germany and Britain combined, adding that this translates to 100,000 jobs for Americans. Mexico provides 70 percent of the fruits and vegetables on American tables, he said.

While the Centennial talk in the evening, according to the Journal report, was peppered with criticism, the Popejoy event was punctuated more than once with applause. The first came after Fox (himself a self-described immigrant of Ireland by way of France and Cincinnati, Ohio) described immigrants as his personal heroes, “a special caste … full of energy, passion and courage.”

He received it again when he offered this proposition: “What is better for a nation,” he asked, “than to have good, wealthy, prosperous neighbors? Then, you don’t need walls, very expensive walls to be constructed – (pause) constructed by Mexicans.” (Applause.)

Fox said worldwide poverty decreased 12 percent over the last 10 years, with people in Africa, Mexico and Asia buying cars and cell phones in droves, sometimes for the first time. Recovering from the excesses of world financiers, he said, will take time (Mexico has its own deficit of $60 billion). But he predicted that “Pretty soon we’ll be back to an expansion period – not because of an Obama or a (Felipe) Calderon (current president of Mexico)” but because of the efforts of hard-working individuals. “If we’re all working, we’re creating wealth.”

Fox, whose win on behalf of the National Action Party (PAN) broke a 71-year stranglehold on the presidency by the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), praised his successor Calderon (also PAN) for having the courage to shut down the Mexican economy in April while health officials assessed the actual danger of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. The closure of schools and restaurants resulted in a 10 percent economic loss for the nation’s second quarter, he said.

Similarly, he said Calderon assumed a war against drug cartels, further cutting tourism as a result. This fight, he said is benefiting Americans by working to cut off its drug supply.

To limited applause, he lumped the PRI (“71 years of totalitarian government”) in with his list of dictators and enemies of freedom (a list that also included Hugo Chavez). And he appears still bitter about the frustrations the PRI-controlled Mexican Congress imposed on his presidency, caustically commenting at one point that perhaps some members will become rich enough to leave Mexico altogether someday.

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