Mexico’s Vicente Fox Says Pena Needs ‘Crusade’ Against Graft

  • Ex-president says Mexico needs ‘badass’ anti-corruption czar
  • Mexico should investigate graft within state governments

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said the nation’s current leader needs to recognize the public’s desire for a stronger hand against corruption, including appointing a czar to oversee anti-graft efforts and investigating governors.

President Enrique Pena Nieto should go beyond the asset declarations required for public officials under the anti-corruption overhaul he ratified last month, Fox said in a telephone interview Friday. Fox, who was president from 2000 through 2006, said the public is losing confidence in lawmakers who legislate only for their own benefit and to protect their interests, and that the trend is worrisome for Mexico’s democracy.

Pena Nieto "needs an effective crusade of punishment against all acts of corruption," he said. "Creating more laws won’t do anything. We need an anti-corruption czar who will be a true badass, who doesn’t tolerate anything or let anything get by him -- not any party, any level of government, neither the public nor private sector."

Pena Nieto, 50, has seen his public approval ratings plummet amid dissatisfaction with the government’s efforts against corruption and violence. A poll by Reforma newspaper this month showed his popularity plunged to 23 percent, a level never reached by Fox and the lowest for any president in two decades. The Reforma survey was taken before the Guardian newspaper reported that a businessman paid a property tax on Pena Nieto’s wife’s apartment in Miami and a local news outlet reported he may have plagiarized portions of his thesis when he was in college.

‘Recognize’ Results

While Fox, 74, wouldn’t specify which state governments merit investigation, Mexico’s Tax Administration said this week that it’s looking into the use of funds in five states, including Veracruz, where the National Action Party captured the governor’s office in June election amid accusations of corruption by politicians from Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party.

"The president needs to recognize the results of the mid-term elections, which were very bad for the PRI, and the polls," Fox said.

Pena Nieto has yet to nominate someone for the job of public comptroller, which was left open for the first two years of his term and then occupied by Virgilio Andrade, who resigned in July after exonerating the president, first lady and finance minister in a conflict of interest probe last year.

Fox called for "radical and deep measures" to address violence, the nation’s weak justice system and human rights violations, and said Mexico needs to strengthen its domestic economy to be less dependent on trade and the deal known as Nafta with the U.S. and Canada, which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has pledged to end or renegotiate.

"We need to be prepared for whatever kind of president gets elected in the U.S. and not be so dependent on the U.S. and its economy," Fox said.