Mexican president’s visit draws protests

Greg Kane

Mexican President Vicente Fox made his first post-election trip to the United States Wednesday, arriving at the State Capitol to meet with Gov. Gray Davis and the State Legislature in an appearance that brought many protesters decrying Fox’s lack of assistance to Mexico’s Zapatista movement.

As Fox arrived at the west steps of the Capitol and met with Davis in the Governor’s Office, a group of about 30 protesters, holding banners depicting red-masked soldiers of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation and its leader, Subcomandante Marcos, held a rally demanding that Fox come out and speak with them. The Zapatista movement demands that more rights are given to Mexico’s indigenous population, and a recent rally in Mexico City brought out tens of thousands of supporters.

“We challenge President Fox to come out!” one protester yelled to the crowd, while many of the others chanted, “We want Fox! We want Fox!”

At a press conference inside, Fox and Davis talked about the importance of building the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, particularly when it comes to trade and energy concerns. Fox pointed out that Mexico provides much energy for the U.S., and said he plans to do everything in his power to help with California’s energy problems.

“The idea is to work toward an energy policy affecting the whole free trade area [of Mexico, the U.S. and Canada],” Fox said.

Fox said the relationship between California and Mexico is of particular importance due to their proximity to one another and their economic status. California’s economy is the sixth largest in the world, and Fox said that when including the contributions of Mexicans in the U.S., his country isn’t far behind.

“If we add together the National Product of Mexico with the output of Mexicans in California, we’re eighth in the world,” Fox said.

Strong ties between Mexico and California are “not just important to California, [but] essential to the future,” Davis said. He noted that Mexicans support 228,000 jobs in the state, and though he and Fox may not meet eye to eye on every issue, numbers like that show they have many of the same interests at heart.

“What unifies us is much stronger than what divides us,” Davis said.

Among the issues the two need to discuss are setting up a system reducing pollution at the border and bringing in scientists from both Mexico and California to preserve the Sea of Cortez, Davis said. Also known as the Gulf of California, the sea is a long gulf separating the Baja Peninsula from the rest of Mexico that is being destroyed by over-fishing, according to an article published in The Sacramento Bee in 1995.

The issue of migration was also discussed, with Fox saying he has a positive attitude about Mexicans working in the U.S., “who work with quality, who work with productivity and who should be recognized.” He said that he’ll work to make sure Mexicans working in America have every right that is afforded to them.

“The idea is to really look at migration in terms of what we in Mexico need to do so that our countrymen have opportunities in [the U.S.],” Fox said.After the conference, Fox and Davis left to address a Joint Session of the California Legislature while protesters stood in the Capitol’s hallway chanting “Fox doesn’t listen!” and “Come out Fox!” in both Spanish and English. One protester, Al Rojas, was particularly vocal, demanding that Fox “recognize the Mexican people” and explain why he hasn’t followed through on his promises to give Mexican’s indigenous people more rights.

“He’s got to live up to his promises,” Rojas said. “We have the right to be heard. We want the right to have him hear us.”

Protester Nancy Leman, who is a member of the Zapatista Solidarity Coalition, said something must be done for Mexico’s poor, who in the past six years have seen their incomes fall dramatically due to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other constitutional restraints.

“Growers who six years ago were getting $1.20 for coffee are getting 60 cents now,” Leman said. “The indigenous in Mexico are a much bigger percentage of the population than [they] ever [were] in this country.”