ON APRIL 9, the Mexican Senate denied the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, permission to leave the country on a foreign visit. The action was unprecedented.
Technically speaking, the Mexican Senate has a constitutional right to do what it did. According to the Mexican Constitution, the president may not "absent himself from the national territory" without receiving permission from Congress. (Article 88, Mexican Constitution).
In the old days, when the PRI ran Mexico, such a constitutional provision existed but was irrelevant. After all, the Mexican Congress was in that time merely functioned as a rubber-stamp for the president.
How times have changed. Now, in an ironic twist of fate, the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, is from the PAN, who was in the opposition for decades. Congress, however, is divided, but effectively controlled by a coalition headed by the former ruling PRI party. So the roles have been reversed. Incidentally, the PAN party used to vote against the PRI president’s trips abroad. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
The Fox camp accused the opposition of seeking revenge. Probably true. On the other hand it’s also true that Fox probably does travel too much. In 2001, he took 15 trips abroad. Were they really all necessary?
It’s also been suggested that the need for congressional travel permission is obsolete. To the present Congress, whether that is true or not is probably irrelevant, since it offers them leverage with the president.
Regardless of the pros and cons, the Mexican political system is moving into uncharted territory, and a genuine balance of power is developing. That’s good. Not only is the Congress now independent of the Presidency, even the judicial system has made progress. In 2000, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that President Fox did not have the right to unilaterally put the country on daylight savings time (a controversial issue here in Mexico). The Mexican judiciary has a long way to go in achieving true judicial independence and shedding its corrupt reputation, but daylight savings ruling was a step in that direction.
The row between Fox and the Senate, interestingly enough, centered around the question of emigration to the United States, and was principally provoked by the March 27 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that illegal aliens do not have a right to back pay. That ruling was roundly condemned here in Mexico.
It’s not that Fox and the Senate have different views on the immigration question. Both Fox and the opposition support high emigration to the United States (as a substitute to substantive reform in Mexico), the right of Mexicans to illegally cross the border, and the utilization of Americans of Mexican descent as tools of Mexican foreign policy.
Both Fox and the opposition have the same goals. It’s just that the opposition claims Fox is not doing enough to advance these goals, and Fox claims that he is.
Since Fox couldn’t leave the country, Castañeda went to California in his place. April 18 found Castañeda in San Francisco, California. There he publicly promoted the use of the "consular card" (a document issued by Mexican consulates to prevent illegal aliens from being deported from the U.S.). The Mexican foreign minister continued to criticize the U.S. Supreme Court decision and proposed a UN commission – headed up by Cuba - to investigate the treatment of illegal aliens in the United States. Although presented as a human rights issue, the real goal of the Mexican government is to prevent the U.S. from controlling its own immigration policy.
What should Americans do?
We should applaud the growth of a constitutional balance of power in Mexico and allow Mexicans to sort out their own political arrangements without our taking sides. We should work with their leadership on matters of mutual interest.
At the same time, we should make no apologies for the fact that the American people, not the Mexican elite, should control U.S. immigration policy.