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Mexican President-Elect Fox Barnstorms Into Washington

By Mary Jordan

Vicente Fox, on a splashy first visit to the United States since his landmark election as president of Mexico, barnstormed through Washington Thursday promoting his vision of a more united North America.

Whether meeting with President Clinton in the Oval Office, Vice President Al Gore at his residence or human rights activists at a downtown hotel, Fox spread the same message: In this new global era, it is time to begin slowly knocking down barriers along the 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico.

“We can begin with an agreement about the border ... by creating a program of convergence, and in period of five to 10 years we may be able to open the borders not just to capital or goods, but also to people,” Fox said in a meeting with non-government organizations.

Clinton did not discuss specifics of Fox’s proposals, but spoke of the inevitability of ever-closer ties between the two countries. “I think over time, you will see a growing interdependence in our hemisphere,” Clinton said as he stood in the Rose Garden shoulder to shoulder with Fox, who was wearing trademark black cowboy boots. “It will be the way of the world. I regret I won’t be around for a lot of it. But it is a good thing.”

Fox, who was elected July 2 in an unexpected victory that ended 71 years of unbroken rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, takes office in Mexico City on Dec. 1.

Gore praised Fox’s “fresh ideas and new energy,” but also expressed concern that “certain aspects of this (open border) proposal could prove problematic in the United States,” according to one of his aides.

Outspoken and charismatic, Fox has established himself as the face of a new Mexico, a leader aggressively promising the United States a new era of more fruitful relations with Mexico, America’s second largest trading partner after Canada.

The three nations have been grouped in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) since 1994. Fox’s big picture ideas for radically expanding NAFTA into greater economic integration, although expressed before, generated a buzz as he voiced them in Washington on his first trip here as president-elect.

There has been grumbling in Washington that Fox’s vision of an open border between the United States and Mexico is more fantasy than policy.

“If we start making the border more porous, and it is already like a sieve blasted by buckshot, you will have one-quarter of Mexico’s population in the U.S. sunbelt within a couple months,” said George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at College of William and Mary in Virginia. Even in 20 years, Grayson said, “You are not going to see the stark wage differential narrow sufficiently so you could have an open border.”