Mexico’s former president Vicente Fox isn’t the guy you would expect to see sporting a bright pink Donald Trump brand tie.
Fox has had plenty to say about the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee — and none of it is complimentary. But then he has a point he wants to make:
“Look at the back, hidden here,” he says, pointing to the manufacturer’s label. “‘Made in China.’ So he’s really protecting workers in the United States, protecting jobs in the United States.”
Fox, a rancher and former Coca-Cola executive who served as Mexico’s leader from 2000 to 2006, has long identified with the Republican Party. But in this election, he supports the candidacy of a Democrat: Hillary Clinton.
“What choice do I have?” he told the Los Angeles Times this week.
Like many Mexicans, he sees in Trump’s aggressive rhetoric an alarming xenophobia that could prove disastrous to relations between the countries and harm both their economies. He and other prominent Mexican figures, including former President Felipe Calderon, have been making a concerted effort in recent weeks to promote the benefits of migration and free trade.
In an interview with The Times, Fox took issue with Trump’s often-repeated assertion that the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement is a bad deal, offered up alternatives to deporting an estimated 11 million migrants in the U.S. illegally and said he hoped that California would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, a proposal that appears headed for the Nov. 8 ballot.
Here are excerpts from the conversation. They have been edited for clarity.
The problem with building walls
You cannot enclose the United States between four walls. You cannot isolate yourself from the rest of the world. And you cannot get away from the responsibility that this nation has to the world. Those who cede leadership leave empty spaces that somebody else is going to fill. And in this case it’s China.
On supporting Hillary Clinton
What choice do I have? I’ll tell you why. What I have learned in life, what I have learned in business, what I have learned in politics, is that you need leaders that have two attributes. One is compassion. No 2, yes, you need a firm hand—but without a stick, without an atomic bomb.
You need to be in this case an Iron Lady, and that I think is one attribute that Hillary has. And the other one? Having this image of a loving and tender mother that cares about citizens. Not only their jobs. Jobs don’t mean happiness. Happiness is education. Happiness is good values. Happiness is spirituality. I know that she is not the perfect lady, but she is willing to build up a team.
We work every day on making that border safe. Every day there are meetings with security agencies on this side, with the FBI, with the DEA, with everybody.
Then you say, “What’s wrong with you Mexicans? You kill each other every day. There is violence, crime, drugs in Mexico. Are you drinking too much tequila?”
Let’s just take marijuana. California produces much more marijuana than Mexico, and much better marijuana in quality than Mexico. What’s the problem? The problem is we are in between the mammoth U.S. markets and the producers of drugs in the south, the Colombias, the Venezuelas, the Ecuadors and the Bolivias. We are trapped.
What’s the solution? The solution is here. It’s in the United States. Why should we go to a war when that can be done right here in San Diego, right here in Arizona? That market is worth $55 billion. Who gets the money? The cartels. What do they do with it? Hire kids in Mexico, pay them three times minimum wage, when industry is paying two times minimum wage. Now who gets them the weapons? The guns are bought here with that $55 billion.
Then we get “El Chapo” escaped from prison. [They say] “Mexicans, they don’t know how to run a prison.” When Chapo comes with $1 million to the guy that is taking care of him. He comes with maybe $5 million to the CEO of the jail. And maybe he comes with $5 million to the governor and to the criminal authorities. It’s very difficult to combat the power of those cartels and their financial capacity.
The argument for legalizing drugs – yes, even cocaine
Legalizing is one way out. Fortunately, the United States is moving [in that direction]. I’m just waiting for California to take the step that Washington state, that Colorado did.
President Nixon launched the war against drugs 50 years ago. And what happened? More drug consumption, more violations of human rights, more killings, more violence.
That is why I think we must move from prohibition into regulation, like we did with cigarettes. In Mexico, it’s working wonderfully. I mean the decrease in use of cigarettes is incredible, because on the packet it says, look, you are going to have cancer.
What to do about immigrants in the U.S. illegally
If [Trump] throws out 11 million, first it is almost impossible to do. But No. 2, the quality of life in the United States will go. Who is going to cook? Who is going to nurse? Who is going to garden? Who is going to clean the streets?
The solution is sitting there in Congress. I wish Trump, and if not, I wish Hillary will read that bill.
Solution No 1: Those who are undocumented are going to get a temporary permit to work and to be in the United States as long as the guy who is hiring them keeps contracting them.
And No. 2: Anybody who does not have a clean record, anybody that has a criminal background, out. Send them to Mexico, send them to Cuba, send them to Guantanamo, whatever. We are willing to accept that. That solves the problem of the undocumented.
Why the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement is a good deal
NAFTA has been a total success. It has brought back competitiveness to the U.S. economy that was totally lost. Ford Motor Co., Chrysler, General Motors could not compete with Volkswagen, with Mazda, with Toyota, with BMW, with Mercedes, and were broke because they were paying [workers] $80 an hour. Solution: NAFTA. Solution: Mexico and Canada.
Now not only U.S. cars, all cars of the world are being manufactured yes, in Canada, yes, in Mexico. That’s why today GM, Ford, Chrysler not only survived bankruptcy, but today they successfully compete with the other automobile companies.
So why should we eliminate NAFTA, which by the way, this guy cannot eliminate if it is not with Congress’ approval.
President Hoover went the same route, and what happened? Depression, the largest, profoundest ever.
Why illegal immigration may not be the problem everyone thinks it is
Today, the train has reversed. More Mexicans are going back than Mexicans coming in. The wall, and the menaces and the xenophobes, has them saying, “Well if I can get my job in Mexico, I stay in Mexico.” And the other thing is that they now have a job in Mexico.
The whole Bajio area , the state of Querétaro, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosí, we have full employment there. My family farms, we don’t get the people we need. General Motors has a plant there, they don’t get the people that they need.
So instead of putting that money on the wall, that will be enough to create businesses, to create jobs among us too — to the benefit of both.
Why Fox doesn’t think Trump will change if he becomes president
In Latin America, we have a lot of experience on this. We were in the hands of dictators, messianic leaders, and we paid a huge price. The Perons, the Evitas, the Hugo Chavezes, the Evo Moraleses have destroyed, absolutely destroyed, those economies. Of course when they were campaigning, people said the same: “Nah, don’t worry, they won’t do it.”
Follow Alexandra Zavis on Twitter