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Sales pitch; Talks focus on importance of Utah-Mexico alliance

Published: Wednesday, May 24 2006 10:47 a.m. MDT

Mexican President Vicente Fox, with his wife, Marta Sahagun de Fox, watches dancers from Midvale Elementary School at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center on Tuesday.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

Mexican President Vicente Fox's first chance to address Utahns Tuesday during his brief visit to the state was memorable for what he didn't talk about — immigration.

"Everybody would have liked to have heard about it. But I think that's kind of an 800-pound gorilla," said Sen. Karen Hale, D-Salt Lake, after Fox's first speech in Utah to some 500 attending an invitation-only luncheon for the Mexican president at the Little America Hotel.

Instead, Fox told the audience of local dignitaries in English about his country's strong democracy and economy. His statistic-filled, nearly 20-minute speech often sounded like a sales pitch for investing in Mexico.

The Mexican president also acknowledged the economic, educational and cultural alliance between Mexico and Utah forged by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. The governor traveled to Mexico City last July to win Fox's approval for the alliance.

Now called the Utah-Mexico "Project for Prosperity," the alliance has helped establish a "very strong tie," Fox said. "Mexico and Utah share a strategic vision," he said, expressing the hope that the relationship will be "increasingly productive."

Fox arrived midday Tuesday and is spending about 24 hours in Utah, the start of a five-day swing through the western United States that also includes stops in Washington and California.

His first-ever visit to Utah began on the eve of a vote in Washington, D.C., on a sweeping immigration bill that would offer the possibility of citizenship for some of the millions of undocumented workers in the United States, many of whom are from Mexico.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Fox went to the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City to meet with about 600 members of the Mexican-American community where he did talk about immigration, including the need for reform.

The Mexican president's earlier speech to business, political and civic leaders "shed some light of the economics of the situation, but it was silent on many of the challenges we're facing as a result of it," Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said, adding that economic "partners should be able to address those challenges openly."

Others in the audience, though, said Fox was right to focus on his country's financial situation rather than delve into the controversy surrounding immigration — especially to a largely business-oriented audience.

Immigration "is a different discussion. I mean it's certainly an important one, but it's a different discussion point," said Chris Roybal, the governor's senior adviser for economic development.

Matching Utah businesses with Mexican buyers "doesn't seem to have a lot of crossover to border issues," Roybal said. "It's certainly a question for discussion, but clearly his message today was around this economic alliance we've created."

Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said he would have been surprised if Fox had mentioned immigration during his speech "because it's an explosive issue right now."

The speech, Jowers said, was "a chance for him to have the message of a statesman and just focus on positive things." Besides, he said, immigration is a national, not a state issue and "Utah is just a bit player in that debate."

The chief executive officer of Bustos Media, a California-based company that owns several Spanish-language broadcast outlets in Utah, said he was pleased that Fox did not bring up immigration in that setting.

"People have to stop talking about all of the divisiveness," Amador Bustos said. "Let's look at what we have in common, not this single problem. Fear is really at the root of a lot of the immigration debate. There is no reason for it."

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