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Building Bridges

Former president of Mexico talks immigration, trade and drug legalization during lecture at the U.


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  • Gage Skidmore via Flickr/FILE

Vicente Fox knows one way the U.S. can alleviate the challenges posed by an influx of South American migrants fleeing north, toward Mexico: invest $35 billion in southern Mexico and Central American economies to create jobs and give people the opportunity to feed their families.

“My solution to the problem of migration is going to the source,” Fox said, encouraging world leaders in Europe and the U.S. alike to solve issues like war, hunger and environmental catastrophe, and to exercise a little compassion in addressing the immigration crisis, instead of retreating to isolationist policies. “Walls divide,” he said. “We must build bridges.”

Fox, the former president of Mexico who served a six-year term beginning in the year 2000, made the remarks Tuesday morning at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall. The talk came hours after Republicans and Democrats in Congress said they’d agreed “in principle” to a bipartisan security compromise that includes far less funding for a border wall than President Donald Trump originally wanted.

Since leaving his presidential perch, Fox has traveled the world and explained why he’s in favor of cannabis legalization, served as an observer in a Venezuelan referendum and become ensnared in a corruption probe that alleges he inappropriately benefitted from his time in office. He’s also become an outspoken Trump critic—“I’m not going to pay for that fucking wall,” Fox said in 2016—and has repeatedly mocked his intellect and competency. Fox even released a video saying he’d run for U.S. president in 2020, because, “America, I feel your pain. We all do.”

A handful of protesters outside held a sign emblazoned with the message, “We support border security. We support our president.” Describing themselves as concerned citizens, the group stood silently to the side as ticket holders walked inside the venue to take their seats. The detractors did not have tickets to the event.

“Fox continually gives the finger to the U.S.,” protester Wilhelm von Johansen, far right, said. - KELAN LYONS
  • Kelan Lyons
  • “Fox continually gives the finger to the U.S.,” protester Wilhelm von Johansen, far right, said.

“Vicente Fox continually gives the finger to the U.S.,” Wilhelm von Johansen, one of the demonstrators, told City Weekly. “He says the F-word against our country and our president and our leaders, and he goes around and smashes piñatas with baseball bats that are made in the image of Donald Trump. This is not appropriate behavior for a foreign dignitary. This guy is a low-budget act.”

Fox critiqued Trump’s policies during his address, but he didn’t outwardly mock him. (Or flip anyone off.) He described the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as instrumental in elevating the U.S., Canadian and Mexican economies. Before NAFTA, Fox said, the U.S dollar was 12 times stronger than the Mexican peso. “So, you would make $1 on the Mexico side, and by learning how to swim or jump walls, you would make $12. Who among you would not go after that income?” he asked.

Thanks to NAFTA, Fox said, that rate has been cut in half. He expects it to be even, after another 25 years. “What better for the United States than to have a successful neighbor down south?” he said. “Because then, no more migration.”

Fox said Mexico is caught in the middle of the drug flow from South America to the U.S., the largest drug consumer market in the world. Mexico, he explained, is not a huge cannabis producer. “California produces much more marijuana than we do in Mexico,” Fox said. Plus, it’s better. “We have the best jalapeños, but we don’t have the best marijuana.”

Mexico’s way out of being stuck in the middle, Fox said, is to legalize cannabis. “Prohibitions imposed by government don’t work,” he said, noting that other countries, including Mexico, are following the U.S.’ lead and beginning to legalize the drug for medical and recreational use. “This is a new trend. It’s moving pretty fast.”

After the lecture, Fox took a few questions from the crowd, the last of which asked if Mexico would pay for a wall on the southern border of the U.S. “I could say, ‘We don’t have money, guys, to pay for that,’” Fox joked. He said Trump has become “trapped” in his campaign promise, and it doesn’t look like Congress is going to give him all the funding he originally demanded for the wall. Maybe it will get built, or maybe it won’t, “But you’re going to be paying for the wall, so you better make sure it would work. Because if it doesn’t work, then you’re wasting your money,” Fox said, turning a phrase that sounded like it came from Trump’s mouth—“OK? Do we have a deal?”