MEXICO CITY — – After toppling more than 70 years of authoritarian, one-party rule in Mexico, it seemed Vicente Fox would be welcomed with open arms north of the border.
Yet Fox, who becomes president Friday, is pushing for more than just change in Mexico. Some of his proposals — that the United States do more to fight drug trafficking, that Mexican workers eventually be able to move freely across the border — have put some in Washington on the defensive.
The former Coca-Cola executive, whose inauguration marks the first handover of power to another party in Mexico's history, hasn't been shy since his July 2 victory shocked and excited the world. He immediately began preaching his vision of a modern, efficient Mexico, traveling around the world to seek international support.
In the United States, wearing his signature cowboy boots, Fox asked presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush to support expanding the North American Free Trade Agreement into a common market, allowing the free movement of all goods and workers across borders.
Both were lukewarm to the idea, likely in part because it touched on the controversial topics of immigration and NAFTA weeks before the closest U.S. presidential race in 40 years.
"Neither candidate really wanted to go out on a limb on anything like drugs or immigration or NAFTA," said Riordan Roett, a Latin American expert at Johns Hopkins University.
Fox was undeterred.
"I will continue to insist on this, and I know I will win the battle," he told The Associated Press on Saturday. "I am going to persuade Bush or Gore, whoever it is. And I am going to persuade the American people."
Many may not need it. Teresa Buan of Chicago said she doesn't have any problem with opening the Mexican border.
"I think people from Mexico are taking jobs that nobody else here wants," she said, sitting on a park bench during a family vacation to San Antonio, Texas.
Reading a book nearby, Luis Lara, an electrician whose great-great-grandparents came to the United States from Mexico, said he hoped Fox could at least improve conditions for those trying to cross the border.
"People lock them in boxcars, take their money and promise them all their dreams," he said. "They are taking advantage of all those people."
But Fox's persistence — and his willingness to speak his mind — may be tough for Washington, which traditionally set the agenda when dealing with the outgoing Institutional Revolutionary Party.
"Vicente does like big ideas. His nature is to be ambitious, and that of course is a good thing. But it could also be an Achilles heel," said Delal Baer, a Mexico analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Sending up more warning flags in Washington was Fox's announcement that Jorge Castaneda, a New York University professor who has often been viewed as anti-American, will serve as foreign secretary.
Fox's brashness has squelched some of Washington's initial enthusiasm about his election, analysts say.
One upcoming battle could be over Mexico's anti-drug certification, the State Department's annual drug-fighting performance evaluation. Mexico's government has long resented the process, saying it is unfair for the United States alone to decide.
Complaints about U.S. policy may become louder under Fox. According to Roett, that may not be all bad.
"Just be prepared for a much more open, and I think more honest, discussion of some of these problems," Roett said. "It will make for a much more interesting, but somewhat rockier relationship than what is has been."
The biggest adjustment may be in Washington.
"This is a new game, and I think that the United States has got to accept that," Roett said.
Still, if Fox can turn things around in Mexico, he may be able to make all the noise he wants.
"The U.S. has always been terrified of Mexico. It's a huge poverty belt with tremendous amounts of problems, corruption," said economist Jonathan Heath.
"If the United States sees a president who can seem to start solving these types of problems, it will be in the U.S.'s interests."