“Democracy is not for granted in Latin America,” former Mexican President Vicente Fox told a capacity crowd Wednesday, April 8, at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
“It has to be nourished, defended and promoted.”
Delivering the Peltason Lecture on Democracy, he cited the global financial crisis and the rise of authoritarian leaders as the most serious threats to economic development and human rights in Latin America.
Mexicans and Americans “share dreams of freedom, democracy and equal opportunity,” said Fox, whose election in 2000 ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s 71-year rule. “This is the Mexico and Latin America I come from.”
He acknowledged Southern California’s large Mexican American population, referring to “my dear paisanos” and eliciting cheers when he addressed the audience in Spanish.
“We know that walls don’t work,” Fox said of the construction of a border fence. “China’s wall didn’t work; Berlin’s wall did not keep out freedom and democracy.”
In his lecture, part of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series, Fox also addressed critics of his own presidency, touting his record on human rights and the transparency of his government.
“During my presidency, the United Nations Human Rights Commission opened an office in Mexico, and my government always respected and promoted human rights,” he said.
UCI Chancellor Michael Drake praised Fox for “promoting ambitious humanitarian and economic reforms” in Mexico and presented the former president with an honorary plaque and something a bit more quirky – a stuffed Peter the Anteater.
The Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series features global scholars speaking on the challenges and possibilities of our increasingly interdependent world. The Peltason Lecture on Democracy was established in 1999 to honor Jack Peltason, UC president and UCI chancellor emeritus, and his contributions to higher education and the study of the democratic process.
Upcoming speakers include former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona and celebrated poet and academic Edward Hirsch.