October 27, 2000

Mexico City, Oct 27, 2000 (EFE) -- Strengthening the economy, fighting corruption, expanding access to education and promoting technological innovation will stand as the priorities of Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox during the first 100 days of his administration.

Speaking with the foreign press on Friday, Fox discussed the challenges his administration will face, expressing his commitment toward human rights and improving conditions for the nation's poor, including a controversial tax reform.

The president-elect, who plans to announce his Cabinet in November, just weeks before he takes office on Dec. 1, will also make job creation one of his top priorities.

To that end, he said he would encourage companies in the important assembly sector to open plants in southern Mexico, hoping to distribute wealth more evenly and reduce the crime rate on the northern border by reducing the number of poor southerners who immigrate to the United States illegally.

He will also promote tax reform based on "progressivity," aiming to increase revenues, facilitate income redistribution and "ensure that the poorest are the ones who benefit the most."

The struggle against the underground economy will be pursued through a strategy of "reward and punishment," combining an offer of loans and competitive financing with firm enforcement of the law.

Fox will try to capitalize on economic growth, and on the "exceptional" situation Mexico enjoys thanks to its membership in the North American Foreign Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and trade pacts with the European Union and other Latin American countries, to attract more foreign investment.

In that context, he said he was convinced that the change of government "will bring back confidence, security and guarantees about compliance with the law" among foreign investors.

Regarding the peso, the president-elect will maintain the current floating exchange rate and will strive to bring inflation below 3 percent by 2003.

Fox said his second great challenge will be the fight against corruption, which he described as "the evil of all evils," and which he hopes to counter with a "great crusade" against impunity that "will begin within the administration itself" and extend to the police.

He acknowledged, however, that "the clean up of the security services will take at least six years."

This great "crusade" will be accompanied by a forthright defense of human rights that will include the "opening of the borders" to international observers and non-governmental organizations.

Fox was careful to draw a distinction between "the current administration (of President Ernesto Zedillo) and those that preceded it, which had shied away from facing human rights violations."

Turning to education, the president-elect said he will support the National Scholarship System and will back a program of financial aid for the poorest students so that "no Mexican remains without schooling for lack of resources."

In foreign policy, he will adhere to the "principles" set out by the Institutional Revolutionary Party administrations over the last 70 years, except for those regarding human rights.

Fox added that he will make his voice heard in international forums, supported "by the legitimacy given by being democratically elected."

Mexico's next president also said he was ready to pursue a dialogue to resolve the armed conflict in the southern state of Chiapas and that he was considering the possibility of "substituting jobs for soldiers" to further the peace process.

On a parallel track, he will ask the legislature to ratify the San Andres Accords, which were signed by the Zedillo administration and the leaders of the Zapatista guerrilla group in 1996.

Fox expressed confidence that the next U.S. president, whatever party he may represent, will encourage bilateral cooperation.

Saying that he has excellent relations with candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, the president-elect said that he would urge that the border be opened over "the medium to long term," once "the (economic) gap" separating Mexico and its northern neighbors has been overcome.

He added that he would also demand that Mexican immigrants' human rights be respected in the United States.

As for Latin America, Fox said he wanted to forge closer relations of "friendship and solidarity" with the nations of the region and urged the creation of a hemispheric common market because "this century is undoubtedly the century of the Americas." EFE

By Mar Marin

Copyright CR 2000, Agencia EFE, all rights reserved.

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