Vicente Fox is hardly a household name in Australia, and that’s the way it will stay. Mexico’s embattled president was due to visit here this week, but his parliament wouldn’t let him leave Mexico. 

The country’s lower house voted last week to keep Fox from leading a trade mission to Vietnam and Australia. The centre-left PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), Fox’s main opposition party, teamed with the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) to quash the visit which was apparently planned some time ago.

The Australian leg of the tour was ostensibly about trade talks, but in Mexican parliamentary debates, the parties distinguished between the nature of Fox’s visit to Vietnam for the APEC forum and to Australia, where his pregnant daughter lives, which they portrayed as more of an excuse for a family visit.

“It’s great that the daughter of President Fox went to study in another country,” said federal lawmaker Erick Lopez Barriga. “… But maybe it would be better for him to make a work visit to Oaxaca; better to go to the border; better that he stay and try to resolve the security problems in our own country.”

Fox’s family has been a source of disquiet in Mexico. Labelled Mexico’s Evita, his second wife Marta Sahagún de Fox, the one-time political spokesperson for Vicente Fox, could perhaps more aptly be labelled Mexico’s Hillary. In 2004, she was forced to refute rumours that she would run for President in 2006.

Marta’s sons from a former marriage have also been controversial figures, criticised for benefiting from their mother’s political connections. And it’s rumoured that Fox’s children from his former marriage did not take to their stepmum, particularly his daughters.

The trip cancellation was “very bad news”, says Jorge Duhalt, deputy head of the Mexican embassy in Canberra. Fox was coming with a delegation of seven “very heavyweight ” Mexican business leaders who were scheduled to attend a seminar on Monday for 250 Australian business people, which was cancelled.

But the future is still bright. Mexican-Australian business relations have been “growing steadily”, says Duhalt, with $1.4 billion a year going both ways.

More than anything, the canning of Fox’s trip was a pointed political message from the PRI, whose embattled governor in Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz, has struggled to control the streets against protests led by teachers demanding better pay.

The general consensus is that Ruiz should be forced out but Fox has been weak on this issue, wavering between tough-talk and allowing the issue to continue. Although he’s a lame-duck president, and in the final weeks of his term, the PRI doesn’t want Fox to get any ideas.

Peter Fray

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