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Saturday, June 19, 2004

WCCO: Fox Wraps Up MN Visit

WCCO: Fox Wraps Up MN Visit

Jun 19, 2004 9:26 am US/Central
Minneapolis (AP) Mexican President Vicente Fox met with dignitaries, community and business leaders in Minnesota on Friday and said he would work to open a consulate's office in the state.

Fox made the announcement on the final leg of a three-day trip that included stops in Illinois and Michigan. The trip was designed to highlight the economic and cultural relationships between his country and the Midwest.

"It's really momentous for the head of Mexico to pay attention to what is really relatively a small community," said David Samuels, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. "I mean, when you think about it, why isn't he going to L.A. ... or Houston?

"I think the point is for Fox to play up these places in the U.S. where you might not expect to find Mexicans or Mexican Americans," said Samuels, who specializes in Latin American politics.

Fox announced he would work toward establishing a consulate in Minnesota. He made his comments while speaking at Academia Cesar Chavez, a charter school in St. Paul with a 95 percent Hispanic population. He also said Mexico wants to work more closely with the United States.

At an evening state dinner, Fox called for a broadening of the spirit of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He called for more cooperation on policies relating to energy, counterterrorism, education and human development.

Fox said increased cooperation among North American countries is the only way for them to compete with Asian economies.

"We need to unite our resources," he told the crowd of about 750. "We need to pull together our visions and be able to meet the challenges of the future."

After a dinner of crusted walleye and wild rice, Gov. Tim Pawlenty toasted Fox, saying: "May your dream for a new Mexico become a reality."

State officials said Fox chose to visit Minnesota in part because of increasing trade. Mexico is Minnesota's eighth-largest trading partner and Minnesota exports to Mexico have increased 80 percent since 1997, according to the state. Last year, Minnesota shipped $342 million in manufactured goods to Mexico, including about $75 million in electronic products and $74 million in food products.

But economics aside, Samuels said the visit to the Midwest also could help Fox politically: Fox has offered a proposal that would permit Mexicans living abroad to vote in Mexican elections.

"Politically, for him, he's made a big point of trying to appeal to the migrant community and try to protect the rights of immigrants," Samuels said.

Indeed, much of Fox's dinner speech was focused on the needs of Mexicans living in the United States.

"We came here to listen," he said. "We came here to make sure that all of your rights are guaranteed and protected -- labor rights, human rights."

The crowd cheered the mention of the new consulate, but also cheered when Angel Morales, advisor to the Institute for Mexicans Abroad directly challenged Pawlenty in an introductory speech to change the state's policy of not accepting the Matricula Consular, a form of identification issued by Mexican consulates, as legal form of identification in the state.

Pawlenty responded that he believes undocumented immigrants should be able to get identification cards, but he said security concerns need to be addressed.

Across the United States, the number of Mexican immigrants nearly doubled in the last decade from 4.3 million in 1990 to an estimated 9.9 mill in 2002, according to the census data.

Workers in the United States sent a record $13.3 billion back to Mexico last year, according to statistics from the Bank of Mexico.

Many of the reforms that Fox had worked toward were squashed by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Samuels said.

The Midwest visit was about forging relationships, and bringing renewed emphasis to immigrant issues and economic partnerships.

In Chicago, Fox helped commemorate the opening of a new consulate's office. He shook hands, smiled for photos and met with community and business leaders. He also spoke at a school in Cicero, Ill., about the need for Mexicans in the United States to look out for one another as they work toward a better life.

He also went to Lansing, Mich., where he urged people to get a better education so more Hispanics can gain prestigious roles at work and in their communities. He urged them to help each other and other Mexican-Americans succeed in their adopted homeland, and said he will continue to work with President Bush on issues affecting the two countries.

Fox, was elected president in 2000, ending 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Many Mexicans blamed nearly all their problems on the PRI.

As a campaigner, Fox vowed to create jobs. But his economy has been hurt by the United States' own economic problems and by increased competition from Asia. Meanwhile, Fox's National Action Party has remained a minority in Congress, so he's had little success in passing reforms.

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