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Vicente Fox, the 55th president of Mexico, has become one of the most flamboyant international critics of President Donald Trump.
At 75, a dozen years removed from his time in office, Fox has used profanity and humor to defend Mexicans from Trump's attacks and rebut his contention that he can force Mexico to finance a border wall separating the two countries.
Fox sat down to discuss his role, and North America's economic future, after delivering a speech to the eMerge conference gathering international business leaders in Miami earlier this week. His speech touched on many issues, including his vision of the future. What follows is a condensed, edited transcript of the conversation.
Listen to the podcast here and find a transcript below:
John Harwood: You made me feel a lot better. You've explained that income inequality is going to go away and that I'm going to live to be 130 years old. But what I want to know is what exactly am I going to be doing when I'm 115?
Vicente Fox: Let me tell you. Golfing, reading, vacationing. Getting the income that robots are going to be producing for you. Robots are going to work for us. So it's a wonderful world.
Harwood: And what is Donald Trump going to be doing at 130?
Fox: Tell you one thing for sure – he is not going to be president of the United States.
Harwood: Yeah, but will there be a wall between our countries?
Fox: I don't know. It's your decision. If the American people want to pay for the wall, let it be. We don't care in Mexico [if] you build a wall. Waste your money.
Harwood: You're not paying for it?
Fox: That's exactly right. We are not paying for that f----n' wall. That's for sure. And why should we? I mean, it's incredible. He's trying to [play] hardball to Mexico. We are offended. We're really offended. We don't like what he has said about Mexico and Mexicans. Every Mexican is now very clear that we must fight, we must resist. That he will go away one day, I hope soon. And that Mexico's much more than this relationship. We are not the little guy on the backyard.
Harwood: Do you think Trump actually believes the things he says about Mexico and immigrants, or is he performing, trying to get votes?
Fox: What I see is stupidity on what he considers the best process of negotiating. His first intention is to defeat his opponent. And once he has defeated his opponent, then he proposes something to negotiate with. I think it's the wrong strategy because on the process of negotiating, you're destroying so many things. It's going to be extremely difficult for him to regain the loyalty, the friendship, the partnership of Mexico.
It's going to be very difficult to deal with China or Russia under the conditions that he has placed them upon. That kid in North Korea — he is playing the same [way]. So we're in the hands of two kids with a red button, with atomic bombs. And our fate and our future is in hands of these two kids.
Harwood: You were a businessman before you were a politician, just like Trump. You didn't use his negotiating strategy. Yours was different.
Fox: Not that kind. I always believe that you must listen to the other, that you must understand your opponent. That you must try to reach a point of linking or joining in, because two produce more than one. If you divide, you're only half of one.
Harwood: You said you thought that our president has only revealed part of what his agenda is, that there's much more coming that we have not seen. What do you mean by that?
Fox: I've been debating with this fellow [Nigel] Farage, creator of the Brexit and promoter of the Brexit, about the nation-state, about a powerful government that controls borders but also controls individuals. We will lose all of our freedom of thought, we will be asphyxiating innovation, creativity under powerful governments.
And I say this because of what we suffered in Latin America through the 20th century. We did not grow as citizens, as a society, as a community because we had these powerful gorillas on top of us. They will say and claim that they will solve all of our problems: "If you don't have a job, don't worry. I'll bring them back from Mexico. If you have fear, don't worry. I build a wall and protect you. If you have fear that we might be defeated, don't worry. We have atomic bombs and we're going to have the most powerful army in the world."
It's pure populism, this answer that he gives to people. And unfortunately, when you're poor, when you don't have opportunities, when you have fear, you bring in those powerful authoritarian leaders to guide your future.
Harwood: Now, many of the people who supported Trump in the election are people who are fearful about and anxious about the way the United States is changing. As we get closer to when we are a majority-minority country, are those passions that produced Trump going to get stronger or weaker?
Fox: Well, who knows? The only thing that seems certain — it was stated by Colin Powell when he said, "This nation must be very committed with minorities because minorities will become majorities in the near future." And so we must educate, we must give access to education. We must give access to technology, access to opportunities to those minorities so that we have the strong leadership that will be running this nation later in the future.
We all are created equal. We all must have same opportunities. We all own this home, this global home of 8 billion people. We all have to be here and that we all have a need to progress.
This is what happened in the last 30 years. It's incredible the way Africa has prospered and has progressed. It's incredible the way Latin America has progressed and has prospered in this last three decades. And all of this because of you — because of your leading technological minds, leading science minds, that have provoked this phenomenon. And as I said before, the future looks brighter. The only thing that can stop this future that we have ahead is violence, is war. That's the only thing that can stop those wonderful things to happen on this 21st century.
Harwood: Let me ask a question about you. You have seemed to very much enjoy challenging, calling out President Trump. You've got the T-shirt, "Can't build a wall if your hands are too small." Why have you chosen this role?
Fox: Well, being very candid, this T-shirt is to raise money. Marta and I, we have three foundations to nourish. And all three of them live out of income that we raised. The conferences I do, this one, the income I get here, I donate to the three foundations.
Harwood: How is the T-shirt selling?
Fox: Quite well, but they have not reported yet. I'm waiting to see. But second, and I think it's very important in the case of Trump, I think I selected the right sparring [partner]. I'm trying to influence as much as I can in this nation because it's my nation too. Half of what you see here is American blood. My grandfather was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he came down to Mexico as a migrant without a penny in his pocket back in 1895. So I love this nation. I want the best for this nation.
I've been now 10 years out of the presidency, out of the administration. I started getting income from conferences, really high-level, the first, second and third year. But that's been coming down, and down and down. I do a lot of conferences for free now. And I'm down to $25,000 — I used to be $200,000. So I need money. I need to refresh myself. I need money for the foundations.
Harwood: Are you doing this one for free?
Fox: No. By the way, I'm doing a cannabis conference starting tonight and tomorrow. I think the answer to violence in Mexico, to homicide, to those 80,000 kids losing their lives in the streets of Mexico, is legalizing. I think that's the way we're going to get out of that. We are going to move from crime, blood and killings to a new industry.
And that's why we're holding this huge global conference on cannabis next May the 30th and 31 in Centro Fox. You're all invited to come. There's not going to be pot. You're not going to be able to smoke there. But you're going to be able to join this new industry as investors or participants.
Harwood: Do you think 10 years from now marijuana will be fully legal throughout this hemisphere?
Fox: I don't have any doubt. It's a very nice, lovely plant, marijuana. Somebody's making bad use of marijuana, but marijuana has a lot of virtues, a lot of good medicinal content. And now, using this plant for building an industry, I think, is very wise, instead of having the criminals take $55 billion every year.
Everybody blames Mexico. "What's going on with those Mexicans? Are they going crazy? Are they drinking too much tequila? Why are they killing each other?" Well, because we're in between the mammoth, huge consumer market in [the] United States and the product, the drugs coming from Venezuela, from Colombia, from Ecuador, from Bolivia.
We just happen to be in between. We're trapped right there. We don't consume drugs significantly in Mexico. We don't produce drugs significantly in Mexico. Our marijuana's poor quality. California produces much more marijuana than we can produce in Mexico.
Harwood: So are you saying that the drug problem in the United States is not Mexico's fault?
Fox: Absolutely. And let me tell you, the headquarters, home office of the great cartel is here in [the] United States. It's not in Mexico. We're not so smart. I mean, those who distribute here, those who raise the money here, those who benefit from crime and drugs are the U.S. cartels. They are here. Mexicans don't distribute the drug here in the States. It's done by this corporate headquarters of cartels in [the] United States.
Harwood: You were elected president in December of 2000 in Mexico. Bill Clinton was just finishing his term. You then served with George W. Bush. You've watched Obama, and now you see Trump. Describe how you compare those presidents with one another, and what you see as the arc of U.S.-Mexico relations.
Fox: We deposit too much authority on the figure of the president. This nation is as strong as it ever has been. It always has been, because of its university system, for instance — it's incredible, the power of universities here.
Its corporate world, its corporate structures — incredible. And saying Wall Street is the bad guy, when Wall Street's stocks are owned by over 60 million families in this nation — there is no more powerful distributor of income than Wall Street. And then you have the swamp — Trump, the Washington swamp.
Harwood: Is there a swamp in Mexico City, too?
Fox: The whole of the nation. We're immersed in profound corruption. And this is why [ruling party] candidate Meade is struggling so much [in Mexican elections], because he has this burden of corruption. So we need a change there. But who is exempt from corruption? In Latin America, it's called corruption. Here it's called lobbying — very elegantly, lobbying.
Harwood: Donald Trump is now saying that he is going to renegotiate NAFTA or rip it up. Do you think it will be ripped up, or do you think there will be a new deal? And if there's a new deal, is it a better deal for the United States or something that Trump will pretend to be a better deal for the United States?
Fox: To transit from the private sector into the public sector successfully, you need a lot of learning experiences. I came from business. My mind was totally immersed on how to manage and run business. And I thought it was the same thing to do it in government. Believe me, it's absolutely different. There is no comparison.
To adapt to the new situation, at least in my case, took me three years of being a congressman, then four years of being a governor and still learning what the difference was. In the first two years as president of Mexico, a lot of new experiences and new learning.
This is the process that Senor Trump has to go through. There's no way he can avoid it. His mind is thinking of corporate, of management, of business-running. So he's got a lot to learn in this process and a lot to change.
Now, with his policies, many of them are intrinsically, in the roots of the issue, wrong. It's his positions I confronted all along. It's wrong, his foreign policy. It's wrong to fight with everybody. It's wrong to offend everybody. It's wrong to offend women.
So it's an evil mind. It's somebody that shows a lot of goodwill to corporations, like Latin American dictators did all along: "Here is what you need. I'm going to give you this. I'm going to tax cut. I'm going to give whatever you want. I'm going to bring back the jobs."
The country will pay for that. Every action has a reaction. Every decision has a consequence. The debt is now running very high. So he's exchanging the now, for people here, giving them what people want, and sacrificing the future. There's no doubt on that. And this is the policy of dictators. This is the policy of messianic and populist leaders.
Harwood: You have an election going on in Mexico right now. Is Russia messing around in your election?
Fox: We deal with Russia as we deal with everybody else. We don't have those background negative thoughts. We deal with China now more than before. If NAFTA is not going to be there, Mexico has 48 trade agreements with everybody in the rest of the world.
Let's not forget that 80 percent of global gross product is out there. It's not here in United States — only 20 percent of gross product. So I don't understand a leader of a nation isolating its citizens inside of four walls. Jailing its citizens, its minds, its innovation capacities in four walls. Withdrawing back and saying, "World, do it as you wish. I am America. I am going to build a wall. I'm going to be a nation-state. And the rest of the world, let it be."
What's going to happen with GM, with Chrysler, with Ford? They make their profits out there. They are present in every market of the world. How he can think that he can come back, bring back those three corporations, jail them in in four walls and force them to produce here?
They will lose all their competitiveness again. They're going to go broke again. Those jobs will never come back, the manufacturing jobs. The jobs that are coming in are the ones you are creating. Those are the jobs of the future. And manufacturing is fading away. It's robots that are taking over. It's science, it's technology that is taking over. That's a reality.
Harwood: You mean it's not stupid trade deals?
Fox: Trade deals are the greatest thing to happen to this world. When President Washington became president, what was his first move on economic policy? He sent Jefferson, the brightest minds, to Europe, to trade with Europe. And that's the way this economy started moving ahead.
Harwood: Let me just pin you down one final time. Do you think that we will stick with the existing NAFTA, that NAFTA will be ripped up because there's no new deal, or will there be a new deal?
Fox: The latest information we get is that there is going to be a NAFTA for the future, that is going to be improved on several issues. I think Mexico needs, and needs badly, to improve its income to working people and to employees, and to the Mexican people in general. I think salaries should go up. And by the way, they are going up because now we're at full employment.
Harwood: But you think there will be a new deal?
Fox: Yes. 95 percent possibility now, fortunately.
Harwood: In case he's watching the live stream, is there anything you'd like to say to President Trump that you haven't said already?
Fox: Yes: Trump, apologize to Mexico, to Mexicans. And then we can have your taco wall and your f----n' tower.