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Former Mexican President Vicente Fox spoke at Huntsman Hall on Thursday evening as part of the Wharton Leadership Lectures. Fox served as president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006. Credit: , ,

When former Mexican President Vicente Fox came to Penn, there was one major point of contention: he received his MBA at Harvard Business School.

Fox spoke at Huntsman Hall Thursday evening for the Wharton Leadership Series.

But despite his Harvard degree, Fox’s message centered on fostering connections.

“Instead of walls, we should be building bridges,” Fox said.

He said he opposed the U.S. decision to build a fence on the U.S. and Mexican border to repel illegal immigration. Moreover, with Goldman Sachs’s prediction that Mexico will be the world's fifth largest economic power by 2040, Fox emphasized “this economy needs Canada [and] Mexico to compete with rising blocks elsewhere.”

Fox said his dream is a union of the Americas — much like the European Union, based on solidarity and shared economic interests.

He mentioned the legalization of marijuana as one mutually beneficial reform. A majority of Americans have used drugs at least once, Fox said. “President Clinton did it, President Obama did it.”

Prohibition is not an efficient deterrent for consumers or for drug cartels, he explained.

But for some students, Fox’s career represents the possibility of bridging professional as well as national borders. Fox is a “successful leader who moved from business to politics — that’s what most students would like to do,” MBA student Talal Salman said.

Fox started as a route supervisor for Coca Cola and eventually rose in the company to become its president. He later moved from the private sector, becoming governor of Guanajuato and then president of Mexico.

Many students said they were impressed at how candid and honest Fox was. “Fifteen years in politics and that was enough,” Fox said. “There’s a lot of hypocrisy, no ethics and no values [in politics].”

“I think his charisma was breath-taking,” College junior Andrés Klaric said. The room erupted in laughter as Fox poked fun at fellow Latin American leaders Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro’s verbosity. When they say they’ll talk for a minute, Chavez “talks for one hour” and Castro “talks for 24 hours,” he joked.

College freshman Kareli Lizarraga said, “I’m Mexican, and he brought a lot of hope to [my] country.”

But College sophomore Carlos Gonzales, also from Mexico, was less impressed. He said Fox “had some good points. If he had implemented them, then it would have been great.”

Wharton freshman Michael Hoyos said seeing prominent people like Fox speak is a great perk of attending Penn. He said he plans to tell his friends and family, “You know, I was just chilling and the ex-president of Mexico was here.”

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