Mexico’s Fox Says Next 3 Years Will Be Best of Pena Nieto’s Term

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said the outlook for Latin America’s second-largest economy is picking up and that drug-related violence is easing.

President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government has made progress in the fight against organized crime and will continue to do so, Fox said in a telephone interview Wednesday from Guanajuato state. At the same time, spending on Mexico City’s new airport and a train between the capital and Toluca will create jobs, while faster growth in the U.S. boosts exports, he said.

“I think we’re going to see the best three years of the Pena Nieto administration,” said Fox, whose election in 2000 broke a seven-decade presidential monopoly for Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Mexico is set next week to auction the first oil fields under an energy-industry overhaul passed in 2013, part of an economic agenda that the Pena Nieto administration estimates will double growth to 5 percent by the time he leaves office in 2018. Fox, 73, is working with EIM Capital, a private equity fund investing in electricity, shale and oil fields, and has helped raise $2 billion for an energy fund in Mexico. His Centro Fox is also organizing a forum for October in Guanajuato focused on energy and technology.

While Pena Nieto succeeded in opening the oil industry to private drilling for the first time in almost eight decades, his approval rating dropped to 39 percent in December, the lowest for any Mexican president since the mid-1990s, according to a poll by the newspaper Reforma.

Popularity Slump

A massacre of students in a southern town and allegations of cronyism involving the president, his wife and the finance minister have diverted attention from Pena Nieto’s economic agenda.

Pena Nieto’s government says that despite the student slayings, its security strategy has been successful in killing or capturing the nation’s top cartel leaders. A report from Milenio newspaper last week said drug-related killings fell to 531 in June, the lowest level for any month since 2009.

“The energy reform, investments in infrastructure and lessons learned in the first three years of the Pena Nieto administration create the outline for three very good years going forward,” Fox said.

Still, Fox welcomed last month’s victory by Jaime “El Bronco” Rodriguez, the first independent candidate to win the governor’s office in Nuevo Leon in at least 88 years.

The vote was “phenomenally good” for Mexico, Fox said. The rejection of Pena Nieto’s party, known as the PRI, and the National Action Party that carried Fox to the presidency, put the nation’s parties on notice to become more transparent and responsive or risk additional losses, Fox said.

Mexico under Pena Nieto passed an electoral overhaul allowing for independent candidacies.

Fox, who built a business career at Coca-Cola Co. before entering politics, said he sees similarities between his career and that of Rodriguez, an outspoken rancher and former member of the PRI.

“I was an outsider,” Fox said. “The system required me to participate in a political party. But today I’m delighted that any citizen can be a candidate.”