As the U.S. debates sealing off its southern border, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has become an outspoken critic of the plan— and a star on social media
Vicente Fox Is a Social Media Star
vicente fox “jumped the wall” to come here, he joked to the crowd. It was May 14, and the former president of Mexico was onstage at Cipriani, a restaurant and venue in downtown New York, where he had just received a Webby Award for best internet personality in film and video.
These days, Fox is a celebrity, not just in Mexico but increasingly in America. And his Cipriani speech captured why. Since early 2016, when Donald Trump was still a Republican hopeful, Fox has been one of his most outspoken critics, lambasting the real estate mogul for his desire to wall off the southern U.S. border—and make Mexico pay for it. “I am not paying for that fucken wall,” Fox tweeted last January. Trump’s critics have loved his brash, comedic approach, and his message has catapulted him to social media stardom.
The folksy, mustachioed Fox has always been charismatic. In late 2000, he became president of Mexico, upending 70 years of rule by the country’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). In one of his first acts as president, he visited his American counterpart, George W. Bush. The two leaders got along well—both are fond of cowboy boots—and pledged to improve trade between the two nations and reform the U.S. immigration system.
Those plans unraveled with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Bush became focused on destroying Al-qaeda, and Fox opposed the 2003 American invasion of Iraq—a move that created tension between the two countries.
Today, however, he seems to be enjoying his newfound fame in the United States. In mid-may, Fox spoke to Newsweek about trade, Mexico’s presidential election in July and, of course, “that fucken wall.”
Mexican pundits have called your six-year term a “lost opportunity.” Is that unfair?
It’s unfair because my term was a minority-run administration. Our proposals needed the approval of the majority in Congress. Checks and balances exist. I was not successful in reaching consensus in Congress because partisanship is deeply rooted.
You have been a staunch critic of left-leaning presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is leading in the polls. Why?
He’s an ignorant man who can destroy a nation. He thinks he could rule Mexico by giving away things to people, and he’d oppress media and people who don’t agree with him. Mexico should not take that risk. Unfortunately, democracy only works when a country has an educated middle class and a fair level of income and education. A country will only become successful when it has an open market, a smart economy and an education system that generates human capital. These tropical messiahs and false prophets are just brainwashing voters.
So who do you think is the best candidate to run Mexico?
José Antonio Meade from the PRI. He knows what it takes to be a president.
The party you helped unseat...
Meade is burdened with the image of the PRI. He placed his presidential aspirations in it, instead of being a maverick and fighting corruption.
Why has it been difɿcult to change the U.S. immigration system?
The president of the United States, rather than being a statesman who analyzes things from a long-term perspective, just focuses on re-election. President Bush said he wanted to back reform, but he never did. Barack Obama never had the willingness to address immigration. Trump is worse.
What makes him worse?
He’ll destroy the nation’s best opportunities. He’s a populist leader who says he’ll take away from the rich and large corporations, but he’s doing the complete opposite.
What about the wall?
The wall will...fail because Americans are not stupid to earmark billions of dollars for its construction, and he’d be crazy to think that Mexico will pay for it. I have nothing personal against Trump, but he’s pursuing the wrong policies. The U.S., Canada and Mexico...we could, as a whole, be the world’s most powerful and competitive economy. Therefore, we should not be thinking about building walls.
If you were president of Mexico today, would you be as outspoken as you are on social media?
During my presidential campaign, I referred to my adversaries as tepocatas [tadpoles], vipers and venomous scorpions. I’m a rancher, and that’s how I speak. If I had told Trump, “You should not build the wall,” it would not have resounded. But if I say, “We won’t pay for that fucking wall,” it becomes a strong message, which is exactly the kind of language Trump uses. He’s the last person to demand respect, because he has been extremely offensive to Mexico and other politicians, but his message is piercing. Therefore, we should not judge how we use words; we should always tell and disseminate the truth.
Is there anything else you want to tell the president of the United States of America?
Leave, buddy, leave!
“These tropical messiahs and false prophets are just brainwashing voters.”