Mexican Lawmakers Restrict Vicente Fox's Travels

Mexico's lower house of Congress voted Tuesday to block President Vicente Fox's planned visits to Australia and Vietnam this month, arguing that pressing problems at home require his attention.

Legislators said they were upset that Fox wanted to travel abroad even as a political conflict in the southern state of Oaxaca continues to smolder, and small bombs presumably planted by guerrilla groups exploded Monday inMexico City.

Fox went on national television Tuesday night to express his disappointment, saying the decision "goes against Mexico's interests," and was "clearly partisan."

It was the second time in recent memory that Congress had exercised its constitutional power to approve or block the president from traveling abroad. The trip would have been Fox's last international trip; he leaves office Dec. 1.

Congress voted 258-187, with six abstentions to deny Fox permission for an official visit to Australia on Nov. 12-16. From there he was to have traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam for the Nov. 18-19 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The Senate approved the trip, but either house can block it.

"It borders on frivolous to take a trip only a few days before leaving office, in a country that is convulsed by violence," Congressman Rodolfo Solis of the small Labor Party said.

In Oaxaca, leftists opposed to the state governor have been battling federal police who entered the city on Oct. 29 to quell a five-month-long takeover by the protesters.

"There are no solid arguments to justify the cancellation of this trip," Fox said in a brief message broadcast nationwide Tuesday night.

He lashed out at Mexico's two main opposition parties, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD.

"I regret that lawmakers from the PRI refuse to listen to the voice of the people and aren't capable of acting responsibly to resolve local conflicts," an apparent reference to the refusal of the PRI governor of Oaxaca Ulises Ruiz to heed calls to step down.

"I regret also that the legislators from the PRD are using as arguments (against the trip) the conflicts that they themselves promote," a reference to Democratic Revolution's support of the ongoing protests in Oaxaca. "Mexico's foreign policy cannot be held hostage to individual interests," Fox said.

In April 2002, the lower house denied Fox permission to travel to the United States and Canada, arguing he was focusing too much attention on international events.

Anger was also running high at that time over the Fox administration's diplomatic dispute with Cuba, and his supposedly too-close relationship with the United States.