Fox’s remarks came at the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan’s 63rd Anniversary Dinner, where he was keynote speaker before an audience of about 500 in the J.W. Marriott’s International Ballroom.
Fox, who helmed Mexico from 2000 to 2006, argued for marijuana legalization and regulation in the U.S. and comprehensive immigration policies that encourage legal passage and work in the country.
The at-times light-hearted keynote event that began shortly after 8 p.m. was fashioned as an “armchair conversation.”
Fox and moderator James Falk of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Ft. Worth sat and talked about policy issues in armchairs on stage before guests seated at dozens of tables.
Earlier in the afternoon, during an interview with MLive.com, Fox made his initial arguments on ending the war on drugs and taking a compassionate approach to immigration reform.
Fox toned down the rhetoric for the keynote event, instead making matter-of-fact statements that garnered applause on several occasions.
On immigration, Fox said the U.S. should consider policies that give Mexican workers the ability to “make the money, to make this economy competitive, to contribute to the wealth and growth of the economy and to let them go back home, which is what they really want at the very end.”
“Your president went to the Berlin Wall, and shouted loud and clear, ‘Tear (down) this wall,’” Fox said, referencing former President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 challenge to then-Soviet chief Mikhail Gorbachev, “and now this nation is building walls.”
Fox likely was referencing the partially erected border fence between Mexico and the U.S.
The wall, at 500-plus miles, is a border security measure derided by critics as xenophobic and championed by others as a necessary anti-illegal immigration mechanism.
But as to its effectiveness, Fox was unconvinced.
“What is it, fear? Or what?” an incredulous Fox asked rhetorically. “I think that walls are not the solution.
“We should be building bridges. We’re partners,” he said, the rest of his statement drowned out by applause from the audience.
Elsewhere during the talk, Fox blasted what he said was the failed war on drugs.
“We’re in a trap, and we’re paying a huge cost in that trap,” Fox said, referencing Mexico’s part to play in the ordeal.
“We just happen to be in between the huge consumption of drugs in this nation (U.S.), a market worth $50 billion U.S. dollars, that are raised on supply of drugs to 4.5 million consumers.”
The result of the failed war on drugs, Fox argued, is an increase in the number of weapons smuggled into Mexico from the U.S., and the violence that results.
Instead, Fox argued the U.S. should consider legalizing and regulating marijuana production, distribution and use in an effort to further crack down on violent drug cartels.
Fox later segued into discussion about “NAFTA Plus,” or proposals to retool the North American Free Trade Agreement to keep Canada, the U.S. and Mexico competitive with other dominant world economies.
“We’re the largest buyer of U.S. products or services,” Fox said of Mexico. “And that accounts for hundreds of thousands, millions of jobs for U.S. citizens.”
To punctuate that point, at the program’s close, Fox grabbed the corners of the Canadian, Mexican and U.S. flags behind him on-stage and held them aloft to applause.