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Mexican President Vicente Fox Addresses a Joint Meeting of Congress

Aired September 6, 2001 - 11:13   ET


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you right away to the House of Representatives. You see, everyone on their feet applauding. There he is, President Fox, President Vincente Fox of Mexico, entering the chamber at this point, shaking hands as he comes down the aisle. He is addressing both chambers this morning. Immigration expected to be one of the topics, trade another. He'll be speaking both in Spanish and English.

You can see with him there Senator Tom Daschle as he comes down the aisle there.

Fox being greeted, Kate Snow tells us from Capitol Hill, like something of a rock star there, very popular.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: I'd like to correct something I said earlier. President Bush is going to be there -- he will not be at the capitol during this join meeting of Congress.

MESERVE: And you see members of the cabinet are also there. He shook hands moments ago with John Ashcroft, the attorney general. He's making is way around the front of chamber now, accompanied by Dick Armey, making his way up to the podium. This address expected to last for 20 minutes in Spanish and English. We expect translation, since I know that not all members are bilingual.

HARRIS: Yes, let's go to our Kate Snow standing by on Capitol Hill.

Kate, have you been able to find out anything at all about what we should hear in this speech?

KATE SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: You know, to be precise, Leon, they've been very secretive about this. I've talked with the Mexican embassy and some Mexican officials this morning, who said that they didn't want to talk exactly about what he was going to say. They want to be surprise. We do know it's going to be about 20 minutes. We expect that he'll talk about the issues we've mentioned, immigration, trade, the issue of standards for Mexican trucks that cross the border. That's been a hot topic of Capitol Hill.

That may come up as well. But we don't know exactly what his message will be, nor will he echo what he said yesterday at the White House, which is that he wants to see legislation in terms of immigration reform before the end of this year. We will see if he repeats that today.

HARRIS: All right, let's go ahead and listen in.


MESERVE: A long ovation for the Mexican president as he stands at the front of chamber preparing to speak.

HARRIS: You said he did rock star reception, did you not.

MESERVE: Well, he is. He doesn't look like Eminem.

HARRIS: I expect he won't sound like him, either. But this is quite a reception here, and this is basically a good sign no doubt that he will get a fair listening today. We understand that he will have some things to say that may not fall on very receptive ears, at least as far as immigration issue goes. He may -- but he has a good chance to make his case and maybe change mind.

MESERVE: The gavel has sounded. Let's listen in.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Members of Congress, it's my great privilege, and I deem it a high honor and special pleasure to present to you his excellency Vicente Fox, president of the united Mexican states -- Mr. President.


VINCENTE FOX, MEXICAN PRESIDENT: I am sure this applause and this warm welcoming is being heard by 100 million Mexicans, which on the name of them, I thank all of you for being so kind with us in Mexico.


FOX (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Honorable members of the Congress of the United States of America, it is a distinct honor for me to be here in the oldest legislative assembly on the American continent.

The Congress' deliberations have had such a strong influence not only on the history of this country, but of the entire world.

This is an historic moment between our two nations in which the governments of Mexico and the United States have decided to begin a new era of friendship and cooperation to benefit both our peoples.

Mexico and the United States wish to bring together our principles and interests as well as our traditions and hopes. The meeting of our two countries at the dawning of this new century may represent the beginning of the most promising chapters in our common history.

My presence in this chamber bears witness to that will to bring our countries closer together. It is our very firm wish, as Mexicans and Americans, to establish a new relationship, a more mature, full and equitable relationship based on mutual trust. (APPLAUSE)

Honorable members of the United States Congress, I stand before you today with a simple message: Trust needs to be the key element of our new relationship.

I am aware that for many Americans and for many Mexicans, the idea of trusting their neighbor may seem risky and, perhaps, even unwise. I am sure that many on both sides of the border would rather stick to the old saying that, "Good fences make good neighbors." These perceptions have deep roots in history.

In Mexico, they derive from a long held sense of suspicion and apprehension about its powerful neighbor. And in the United States, they stem from previous experiences with a political regime governing Mexico, which for the most part was regarded as undemocratic and untrustworthy.

Our countries, thus cautiously distance themselves from one another to suit frame of mind, but circumstances have changed them. We're now bound closely together, whether in trade or tourism, economic or family ties, our links are countless and ever growing.

No two nations are more important to the immediate prosperity and well being of one another than Mexico and the United States.


That is why our two great nations must go forward together to establish wider and deeper forms of cooperation and understanding. In this task, trust will be essential to achieve our goals.

We must, therefore, leave the kind of suspicion and indifference that have so often in the past been the source of misunderstandings between our two peoples. For it is only by engaging more fully as neighbors and partners that we can make a difference to our societies, and we now have before us a historic opportunity to achieve this end which has proved so elusive in the past.

We intend to be forthright in our friendship and unwavering in our commitment, for as Corinthians states so simply and truly, "It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful." The relationship between Mexico and the United States has changed in one fundamental way: through democracy, in Mexico, for decades an unfulfilled dream is now a reality.


As a result of last year's vote, Mexico now has a legitimate and truly democratic leadership.

This has meant a change in government, but it is also a reflection about profound change in the values and aspirations of Mexican society. I am, therefore, determined to make democracy and tolerance the principles that guide all government actions and to ensure that public institutions in Mexico become the guarantors of the rights and highest aspirations of citizens.

I have also pledged to address the most pressing problems now confronting Mexico. Some of which are, perhaps, unintended, but nonetheless a tangible legacy of authoritarian past, among them: poverty and inequality that for so many decades have condemned millions of Mexicans to a life of disadvantage and insecurities; the crippling disease of corruption, which has had such an insidious affect on the life of our country; and the fragility and weakness of our judicial system, which itself must be reformed in order to bring an end to impunity and to consolidate the rule of law throughout the country.


I am convinced that it is time to bring Mexico up to date on all fronts, both within and beyond our borders. It is also time to bring Mexico up to date in its relations with the United States.

Both of our nations now fully share without qualification the fundamental values of freedom and democracy thanks to those democratic changes inaugurated in Mexico last year on July 2. The time has come for Mexico and the United States to trust each other.


Simply trust, that is what has been sorely absent in our relationship in the past and that is what is required for us to propel and to strengthen our relationship in the days, weeks and years to come. Let us foster trust between our societies. Let us build trust along our common border. Let us take the road less traveled by and build confidence every step of the way. Only trust will allow us to constructively tackle the challenges our two nations face as we undertake to build a new partnership in North America.

Take for example our common struggle against the scourge of drugs. It should be clear by now that no government, however powerful, will be able to defeat on its own the forces of transnational organized crime that lie behind drug trafficking. Intense cooperation is required to confront this threat, and trust is certainly a prerequisite of cooperation. This is why, since I took office last year, Mexico has enhanced its cooperation with U.S. authorities.

We have arrested key drug kingpins and have extradited drug traffickers wanted by the United States Justice.


However, much more needs to be done. Trust will be crucial to enhance intelligence and information-sharing between both governments. We're committed to becoming a full partner with the United States in the fight against drugs, but trust requires that one partner not to be judged unilaterally by the other.

Members of this honorable Congress, give trust a change, give both governments a chance. The bill to suspend drug certification for three years, S. 219, will allow us to move forward in the fight against drugs; cooperation is not a nicety, it is a necessity.


We ask that you demonstrate your trust in us by passing this legislation as a gesture of your faith and confidence in this new country that we are working so hard to build. We must also trust each other if we are to deal successfully with the issue of migration.

In recent months, President George Bush and I have already shown our willingness to trust each other by agreeing to discuss this most complex matter. As the history of this country shows, migration has always rendered more economic benefits to the United States than the cost it entails.

Let us also not forget that migrants invariably enrich the cultural life of the land that receives them. Many among you have a parent or a grandparent who came into this country as an immigrant from another land. Therefore, allow me to take this opportunity to page homage to those brave men and women, who in the past, took on the challenge of building a new life for themselves and for their families in this country.

And let me also salute the Mexican migrants living in this country and say to them, Mexico needs you. We need your talent and your entrepreneurship. We need you to come home one day and play a part in building a strong Mexico.


When you return and when you retire, we need you to come back and help us convince other Mexicans that the future lies in a prosperous and democratic Mexico.

My dear countrymen, Mexico will not forget you and will support you. We will not fail you.

There is one crucial fact that we must not lose sight of; migration flows respond to deep underlying economic incentives, are all but impossible to stop and must, instead, be regulated. Mexico is, therefore, seeking an agreement that will lend greater security and orderliness to the migration flows between our two countries.

This wide trust in dealing with migration entails reaching common ground to address the status of Mexican migrants already working and living in the United States, already contributing to enrich this nation. Let me be clear about this: regularization does not mean rewarding those who break the law; regularization means that we will provide them with the legal means to allow them to continue contributing to this great nation.


The agreement that we seek would establish a higher ceiling for permanent visas awarded to Mexicans coming to this country, and it would also expand opportunities for Mexican workers to obtain temporary work visas so that they can enter the United States safely and legally.

Additionally, the agreement would require us to enhance our cooperative efforts to improve border safety, save lives and crack down on criminal smuggling gangs or (inaudible). And, finally, it would demand that we promote economic growth in Mexico and we know this is our responsibility, to promote specific opportunities for all those kids and young people, specifically in those regions that are the source of most migrants.

Progress regarding migration will not be easy. Yet, it is essential that we maintain our commitment to an open and frank discussion so that we may find a lasting solution that is acceptable to both our countries.

Such a discussion can only take place in a climate of trust. We have a fundamental decision to make; it is a decision that provides us with an opportunity to achieve the highest aspiration of any politician, leaving a lasting legacy of well being to their people.

Mexico and the United States must also work constructively to promote our common values within our region. By adopting a clear and consistent stance, our governments may jointly address some of the most relevant and pressing issues of our hemisphere, such as the deepening of democracy, the promotion of human rights.

This should be our most noble cause in the Americas and in the rest of the world. On issues of common concern, such as the situation in Colombia, the promotion of economic development across Central America, the establishment of the free trade area of the Americas, the negotiation of a democratic charter for the OAS, or the shared goal of fostering financial stability and disarming financial crisis throughout our region. It is vital that Mexico and United States work together, each one as a partner, that we are in building peace and stability throughout the Americas on the basis of our own principles and interest.

Evidently, we will not always see eye-to-eye, both countries should convey to each other in all sincerity and candor their respective perceptions about how best to tackle issues of common concern for the well-being of our peoples. Trust will allow us to do this.

Members of the Congress of the United States of America, we have before us today the opportunity to dramatically change the future of our relationship. This meeting between Mexico and the United States is, today, the meeting between two democracies willing to build a better future.

The relationship between Mexico and the United States is now in our hands. It is up to us to open wide the windows of opportunity before us. We are the architects of our common destiny.

This means that we must recreate the relationship between our two great nations in a conscious and deliberate manner, moving forward firmly without leaving anything to chance. We must fully share this commitment in order to later enjoy together the fruits of our common labors.

Obviously, we all know full well that there are no easy answers or nor magical solutions to the challenges faced by Mexico and the United States, but there is a path along which we can make progress with firm steps toward their solution, the path of mutual trust that our governments will always behave with integrity in their daily work, trust that the strength of our relationship as partners and friends is strong, trust in our future of shared prosperity.

Honorable members of the U.S. Congress, the political change currently under way in Mexico is the most powerful reason why we are now able to establish new forms of friendship and cooperation with the United States.

We're ready to turn this change into the seed of a better future for both of our countries.

I hope that the United States will embrace this historic opportunity to build a new era of prosperity and understanding between our peoples. It requires will, as well as vision. To take advantage of this favorable turn in history and forge a new friendship between Mexicans and Americans, this legislative body along with its peers in Mexico can play a decisive role in bringing our two countries together. You are a key partner in fostering trust between our two peoples.

Years ago, the United States Congress faced a difficult decision and choose to vote in favor of a greater integration with Mexico through the North American Free Trade Agreement. The partnership between Mexico and the United States is still incomplete. There remain many unresolved issues that must be dealt with in order to achieve our common goals now as partners. One of these goals is an issue which this great body will soon consider and which entails an important obligation under NAFTA. It is the issue of access to the United States for Mexican trucks. For this, as in many other items of our common agenda, we need your trust. will allow both countries to comply responsibly and maturely with their obligations ti one another.


The over-reaching question is not then whether we can afford to trust each, but whether we can afford not to. The growing conversions of our nations can lead to shared responsibility and prosperity and to the strengthening of those values that we have in common. Let us begin anew, as those who founded our modern (ph) nations once did. Remembering on both sides that there can be no friendship without trust, and no trust without true commitment.

When history comes knocking on our doors, as it has done now, bold decisions are required.

Let us make one today: let us decide to trust one another.

John F. Kennedy believed in new beginnings. In accepting his party's nomination as president, he spoke of a new frontier, quote, "We stand today on the edge of a new frontier. The new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises, it is a set of challenges." This was in 1960.

Today, at the dawn of a new century, our two great nations face new challenges, but we do so with new opportunities unimaginable even a few years ago. Our frontier will be conquered not by confrontation, but through cooperation; not by threats, but by common aspirations; not by fear, but by trust.

My friends, let us pledge today to create a new special partnership between the United States and Mexico for the benefit of our two great peoples.


HARRIS: Mexican President Vicente Fox addressing this morning, this joint meeting of Congress. You've seen his reception, and it's been quite a warm one. And his words this morning is words that we have heard quite a bit this week. He said that his key message was one of trust. He said it's time to bring up to date the relations between Mexico and the U.S. He sees that mutual trust between the two countries and being open and candid in discussions about issues are -- is the answer, because he says, there are no easy answers, but there are -- there is a path to the solutions. That being this mutual trust, and that being a path to find solutions to the problems of the drug trafficking that the U.S. and Mexico are both combating.

Also, the issue of immigration, which we'll talk about in just a bit. And the access to the U.S. by Mexican trucks, which is going to be another big issue facing Congress.

MESERVE: And while the applause continues, let's talk a moment with our panel of experts to dissect and analyze what President Fox had to say. Joining us is Bill Schneider, Kate Snow from the Capitol Hill, Major Garrett at the White House.

Kate, how will these comments play on Capitol Hill? Did members hear what they wanted to hear?

SNOW: Well, I think so. They wanted to hear from a brand-new leader. Someone they don't know all that well, and they to be able to give him an enthusiastic response, and you see that that's exactly what they're doing. They gave him a standing ovation when he came in. They're doing that now as he leaves, so it seems like the message would probably be well received. Now some would disagree with some of the finer points of what he said.

He mentioned three different legislative things that he wants the Congress to do. One, he talked about something that hasn't gotten a lot of attention here on Capitol Hill recently, which is extending drug certification for Mexico. There is a bill out there on the Senate side. It's already gone through the Foreign Relations Committee. It's awaiting Senate action. It would extend for two more years the certification that allows the U.S. to give Money to Mexico and help to Mexico in fighting the drug war.

He also mentioned immigration. Some of what he said will be agreeable to some members and disagreeable to others, and he also mentioned, as you as just said, the Mexican truck issue. That's another big issue here on Capitol Hill. He didn't really get into that one, though. He just said trust us, trust us to do the right thing in terms of safety standards for trucks.

HARRIS: Let's go to Major Garrett at the White House. Major, how is the White House likely to receive the words that we heard today?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Very sympathetically, Leon, and I can tell you that the speech that was just delivered by President Fox was really a speech aimed directly at congressional Republicans. You know, in his toast to President Bush last night at the White House at the state dinner, President Fox said, I met this man a long while ago, before he was your president. "I saw in my first meeting with him that he had a new vision, a new kind of vision that I had encountered among Republicans about what my country could be, what our two countries could be. I have seen that vision every time they have been with him."

Well, what that speech was meant to do with that Republican audience in Congress is say, listen to your president, share his vision, we have a new government in Mexico. The first part of the speech was almost a denunciation of the old style of authoritarian -- that's his word -- authoritarian Mexican rule. He says you and Congress been rightfully suspicion of that. That authoritarian rule denied my own people what they deserve, their own rights, their own good autonomous government. He said, that's all changed. What you have to do now is invest in us, give us what you can give us now, which is trust. If you give us your trust, then we can work out all of these other issues. But without any trust, without any sense on your part, our government has changed and trying to change, will get nowhere.

MESERVE: Bill Schneider, let me ask but the view outside of Washington, in the rest of the U.S. and in Mexico. How will these remarks be viewed?

GARRETT: Well I think that they are equally aimed not just the Republicans in the Congress, but also the American public. Public opinion has a power in the United States more than any other Democratic country. And Americans have in the past not been particularly trusting of Mexico. He did say trust was something new. He was trying to say to the American people, there is a new political regime in Mexico. Everything has changed, and it was extraordinary that he denounced the previous Mexican regimes as he said, undemocratic and untrustworthy. That was the way of saying to the American people, Mexico is different now. Because most of the measures that he talked about, allowing easing restrictions on Mexican trucks, very unpopular with Americans, easing immigration restrictions and allowing more visas and regularization for Mexican migrants, very unpopular with Americans.

These things have got to have -- produce a change in the American public. They've got to trust Mexico more, and this was the plea to them. HARRIS: I think we still need to hear more about that regularization that he proposed, because it's not a reward for breaking the law. But he also said that it's not -- it should provide a legal means to those who have been living here and working, and that is an issue that the American public had a real tough time swallowing, so we'll have to talk about that some more.

MESERVE: And our thanks to our panel, Bill Schneider, Kate Snow and Major Garrett.

HARRIS: All right, thanks much people. Guys, we'll talk to you later on.

We'll take a break right now and come back with more in just a moment. Don't go away.


MESERVE: And Vicente Fox has now completed his remarks to the U.S. Congress, and we're taking a closer look at some of what he had to say.

Bill Schneider joining us now from Washington.

Bill, a lot of talk, frank talk, about Mexico's past problems. Does this have a certain appeal to the U.S. Congress?

SCHNEIDER: Of course. He mentioned specifically what he called the crippling disease of corruption. You know, there was a hit movie last year called "Traffic" which was very disturbing to Americans, because it highlighted the corruption of Mexican officials and American criminals.

He talked about transnational organized crime. He said that no single government is able to deal with it alone. He can not -- it can not be dealt with -- he used this word very carefully -- unilaterally. Because there's been a lot of criticism of President Bush of acting unilaterally.

He said this can not be dealt with unilaterally, and the crippling disease of corruption that has plagued Mexico for much of its history, he said, we're trying to bring an end to it. There is a new regime in place.

MESERVE: We might note that some members of Congress had cameo parts in that movie, "Traffic." Leon?

HARRIS: Well, Bringing up members of the Congress, Bill. I am curious of how you think that the comments that Vicente Fox made today are going to be received by Democrats and by Republicans, taking a political look at this.

Which side here is more likely to take away something from this that would actually move the debate on any of these issues?

SCHNEIDER: Well I think Republicans are following the leader, their president. There is some hostility to what the president has said about regularizing immigration and allowing immigrants to begin the process of becoming citizens.

But, I think Republicans are going to be much more receptive than they have been in the past. There is a large free trade, internationalist wing of the Republican party, and I think that the message was said earlier, Kate said earlier, was aimed very much at them.

Democrats have a big constituency among Hispanic voters, and they're ready at this point to try to outbid President Bush and the Republicans. When Bush says, we want to ease immigration restrictions, the Democrats say, hey, that's something we've been talking about for years.

So, there's some concern that in this competition for Hispanic outreach in the United States, the two parties may try to outbid each other.

MESERVE: Well, Bill, early in the conversation there was talk of treating migrants from Mexico differently than migrants from other countries.

Has that talk now moderated because they want to have a more blanket appeal to the Hispanic population in the U.S.?

SCHNEIDER: Well what President Bush has said is we want -- we're talking about Mexico first, not Mexico only. But because the largest proportion of undocumented immigrants in the United States are of Mexican origin, he said that problem is the most serious and it has to be dealt with first.

Interestingly, there is a big coalition, a diverse coalition that supports some form of legalization. Not just business, which obviously has an interest in getting a larger supply of cheap labor, but also labor unions. That's very odd, because in the past they have been fully in favor of restrictions on immigration. They don't want workers coming in and competing at low wages. But they have learned that these Mexican immigrants are very heavily unionized, and are very receptive to union appeals.

I looked at last year's exit polls and found that Hispanic voters were more heavily unionized and union influenced than either white or African-American voters in the United States. So a lot of labor unions favor this because they say this is a fresh supply, not just of workers, but of union available workers that we can organize.

The church favors it, because they want to regularize family relations. And of course, the Mexican -- the new Mexican government makes that a top priority. So this is a broad and diverse coalition.

MESERVE: There's been a lot of debate, Bill, about how would benefit, which political party would benefit if there were to be some sort of legalization of many of the migrants who were here.

What's your take on it? Democrat or Republicans, who comes out on top?

SCHNEIDER: That's a very interesting debate. We're going to talk about it today on "Inside Politics" this afternoon, because you've got a lot of evidence saying that if you legalize and allow a large number of Hispanics to become citizens and voters, this be a windfall for the Democratic party.

And the White House has been somewhat defensive in trying to say, now wait a minute, we're not trying to say we're going to do this all at once. What the White House is saying, we just want to gain, three, our four, or five points among Mexican -- among Hispanics in the short run to save the Republican party. Hispanics are the fastest growing constituency in the American electorate, and they've become heavily Democratic.

So, what the White House is saying is look, we can't not do this, because we have to survive politically. There are too many states: Florida, Arizona, Colorado, California, where we are becoming uncompetitive because we are slipping among Hispanic voters. And in the long run, they believe it will pay off, because as those Hispanics becomes citizens and voters and enter the economic mainstream, they're hoping and expecting that they will vote more Republican.

HARRIS: Interesting. Very interesting.

MESERVE: Bill Schneider, thanks for giving us some perspective.

HARRIS: Thanks, Bill. See you later on.

Interesting little mosaic of issues and what not together.



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