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Reality sinking in for Mexican president

Fox has trouble delivering on his promises

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MEXICO CITY — President Vicente Fox once said his path to power was "full of rocks, predators, leeches, scorpions and snakes." The road has not improved much since he won election last year. He may have made it harder by paving it with good intentions.

His promises are a national wish list for transforming Mexico: a rapid end to conflict in Chiapas; new trade alliances with Central America to help lift this nation's south out of poverty; new jobs to keep young men from migrating to the United States; a truthful accounting of hideous crimes in Mexico's past; better salaries, training and equipment for teachers and the police; an end to government corruption.

The gaps between Fox's intentions and reality allow his critics to say that he acts as if he were the chairman of Mexico Inc., issuing policies and promises like business plans and projections. But Fox has realized — slowly, say allies and enemies alike — that he cannot govern Mexico the way he once ran Coca-Cola's operations here.

Fox proposed to build political alliances with Congress and reform Mexico's archaic tax code. The independent-minded Congress, controlled by his opponents, rejected the plan. He vowed to retool the inefficient state-run energy company. The plan remains on the drawing board. He promised to distribute a million microloans to support homespun businesses. Some 3,070 people have received them so far, according to the program's administrators.

He once thought that economic growth would finance his social programs and that a newly energized federal government, fueled by his popularity, would turn his words to deeds. But countervailing political and economic forces have hit Fox's presidency like a cyclone. Fox pledged 7 percent economic growth and the creation of more than a million jobs this year, but more than 300,000 have been lost since he took office.

Fox stood before Congress on Saturday night a visibly changed man from the dream-driven politician he was nine months ago, when he donned the ceremonial sash to become the first president of Mexico elected from the political opposition. As he gave his first state-of-the-union address, his voice was drained of the relentless optimism that fires most of his public discourse.

As his popularity ratings slowly descend from the clouds, so have the promises of his presidency. In flat, direct language, he acknowledged that his biggest pledges to Mexico — promises that propelled his stunning rise to power — have been deferred.

"Many results have not come as quickly or as fully as we needed," he said.

"There are obstacles, and there will continue to be obstacles. But rest assured, I will keep my promises to you."