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Bush and Mexico

In January, Mexican President Vicente Fox accepted his first cabinet resignation. Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda Gutman resigned and accepted a job as a professor at NYU. One Mexican poll claimed that 77% approved of his leaving. President Fox, deprived of his most learned adviser, looked despondent. The White House praised Castaneda’s work and said it would miss him.

Indeed, where would Bush find a more willing and able Mexican butt-kisser? Castaneda backed Washington’s obsolete policy toward Cuba, endorsed its globalization policies that caused misery in Mexico and throughout the third world and even tried to support Bush’s irrational war demands against Iraq.

Castaneda, ironically, resigned because of timing. Washington had counted on Mexico’s vote in the UN. As a non-permanent UN Security Council member Mexico had the chance to play a key role in the internal Security Council politics around the US war against Iraq. President Fox, contrary to Castaneda’s strong advice, had instructed his delegate, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, to vote against the use of force against Iraq. Before going to the UN, Aguilar Zinser, Castaneda’s one-time friend and sometimes rival, had served as Fox’s National Security Adviser. Aguilar Zinser told the media that Mexico opposed Bush bellicose position. Castaneda, reportedly in a rage over being overruled, submitted his resignation.

For most of his term, Castaneda had done what no other Mexican minister had dared do since the Mexican revolution. He had taken an openly pro-Washington position. He explained to Congress and the media that “all nations incline to the U.S. for one reason or another and Mexico will be no exception.” Although his adage had the ring of ugly truth, he had nevertheless revealed the unspeakable, and the traditional political parties, most of whose important members had been clandestinely in the US pocket on issues that mattered to Washington, vehemently denounced Castaneda. The PANistas (The National Action Party — Fox’s party) called him a closet lefty; the pseudo left PRD (Revolutionary Democratic Party) a traitor to the cause of the people.

For all of his obsequiousness to the Bush White House, he could not get Bush to deliver an acceptable immigration arrangement, the most solemn promise candidate Fox had made and could not conveniently circumvent. Castaneda had insisted on abandoning the traditional Mexican posture toward Washington. For more than half a century Mexican governments have maintained a foreign policy that appeared independent from the United States.

Once in a while, appearance even coincided with reality. For example, Mexico refused to obey US dictates to break all relations with Cuba in the early 1960s when the rest of Latin American dutifully fell into line. Instead, Mexico maintained not only diplomatic relations with the communist government of Fidel Castro, but insisted that she had the right to trade with Cuba and even allowed Cubana airlines to run scheduled flights from Mexico to Havana.

However, trade between the two neighbors was practically non-existent and when, in 1969, Cuba purchased a mechanized cane-cutter from a Mexican factory, CIA operatives arrived at the factory, sabotaged the machine and rewrote the repair manual so as to make them incomprehensible to Cuban mechanics.

The regular Cubana flights from the Mexican capital to Cuba also involved peculiar procedures. From documents declassified in the late 1980s we learned that the CIA had arranged with (bribed) Mexican authorities to force each passenger before boarding the Havana flight to submit to a six page questionnaire, filled out by a Mexican paid by the CIA but wearing the uniform of an immigration official. Then the passenger held a number to his chest and had his photo taken. The CIA received the photos.

On some occasions, CIA agents with Mexican police credentials kidnapped prospective US passengers, forced them into cars and drove them to the US border. In 1970 six Americans described to me in vivid detail the highlights of their traumatic experience that began as they pulled up to the Mexico City airport. Burly fellows, armed and carrying some sort of badges threw them into locked cars and drove them straight except for bathroom and gas stops to the Texas border.

Despite this crude collaboration with the CIA’s anti-Castro policies for forty plus years, the Mexican government had maintained the facade of absolute correctness with Cuba. Hardly overrun with friends in the hemisphere, Cuba accepted the facade as convenient and in return did not attempt to “export” to Mexico the revolutionary ideology that she gladly dispensed to the rest of the third world. The Mexican government used its supposedly fair and just Cuba policy against its own left. On the one hand it heralded the sovereignty of Cuba and its right to have its revolution, while smashing its own left for having those same ideas.

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the government murdered and tortured thousands of leftists. The United States, even after it “discovered” human rights as a foreign policy criteria under Jimmy Carter, 1976-80, remained quite silent, appropriately bowing to Mexican “sovereignty.” Luis Echeverria Alvarez, Minister of Gobernacion (Interior) in the late 1960s and President from 1970-1976 made militant speeches about third world independence and swore allegiance to Cuban sovereignty. But he acceded not only to the “cute” CIA capers with Cuba but the bloody 1968 assault at Tlatelalco where the government’s repressive forces slaughtered hundreds of protesting Mexican youth. Echeverria was a product of the seven decade long ruling culture of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). The record of Mexico’s ruling party qualifies it for a place in the Guinness Book of records: length of 20th Century governance plus the quality and quantity of its corruption.

Then in 2000, Mexican voters ousted the ossified and deeply destructive PRI and elected Vicente Fox. The leaders and members of the rightist PAN party, an olio of Franco type fascists, sincerely reformist Catholics and opportunistic business and professionals, were shocked when Fox appointed a leftish, scholar-journalist albeit the son of a former foreign minister to the Chancellor post. Since the fall of the USSR, however, Jorge Castaneda, an ex commy intellectual, had also gained respect and renown from prestigious establishment circles.

In office, he became not just conservative, but downright obsequious toward Washington. He justified his servility by explaining that in the globalized and uni-polar power world Mexico had to change its traditional and meaningless charade of independence and bargain with the great master as a subservient nation. By doing this, he argued, he could get Washington to agree to sign a treaty legalizing the 3 plus million Mexicans who live in the United States without the protection of green cards or other legal papers.

He failed. The lesson: the White House flatulates in the face of butt-kissers. In Castaneda’s case, Bush, citing post 9/11 security reasons, refused to legalize the Mexicans inside the US, thus crowning two years of working in vain toward one major goal. Castaneda resigned. He knew from his mastery of Washington politics that going against Bush’s wish on Iraq at the UN meant certain defeat for an immigration plan.

In Washington, high officials expressed genuine disappointment over Castaneda’s departure. In Havana the opposite emotion prevailed. Indeed, the Cubans had accused Castaneda of acting as Washington’s agent in pursuing Cold War policies against the island. In February 2001, after a year of Castaneda’s openly provocative anti-Castro remarks, Fox traveled visit to Havana to celebrate the centennial of Mexican-Cuban relations. Castaneda’s behavior infuriated Castro. Just as US Members of Congress cover their asses by meeting with dissidents after conferring with Castro, Castaneda arranged for Fox to meet these “dissidents.” Then in the Spring of 2001, Castaneda broke another Mexican tradition when, instead of abstaining, he ordered Mexico’s representative to condemn Cuba for human rights violations at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Cuban officials were not alone in reminding the world that Mexico’s human rights record could hardly withstand scrutiny, especially in light of its persecution and often murder — of its own dissidents and the continued maintenance of a 60,000 strong army of occupation in Chiapas.

Castaneda shrugged of such criticism and in March 2002, further alienated Cuban officials. He became the showpiece as the Miami inauguration of a . cultural office. Speaking before the most rabid anti-Castro Cubans, he asserted the “doors of Mexico’s Havana embassy” would be open to dissenters. Within hours, these words landed in Cuba, thanks to Radio Marti, the broadcast financed by the US government.

Predictably, a group of malcontents hijacked a public bus and ran it through the gates of the Mexican Embassy. Mexico’s Ambassador, Ricardo Pascoe, was furious and demanded that Castaneda agree to allow Cuban police to remove the gate-crashers, who were partying at the Embassy. Castaneda had to agree and Cuban authorities arrested the invaders.

Castaneda’s hatred for Castro had become public knowledge by this time. For those who had read his book, Utopia Unarmed, this came as no surprise. The age of armed insurrection was over, he asserted, just before the Zapatista uprising occurred. The Cuban revolution is not only out of date, but hopelessly flawed, the book argued. But what shocked even Castaneda’s admirers was the crudity of the tactics he used against Fidel, who, arguably, has proven himself in the last 44 years, the cleverest of all Latin American leaders.

In March, 2002, Mexico hosted the UN International Conference on Financing for Development in the industrial city of Monterrey. Castaneda had convinced President Fox to bow to a US demand: Bush would attend the conference if Mexico could assure him that Castro would not be present at the same time. So, instead of telling Washington to go shove it, Fox phoned Fidel and asked him to leave before W landed in Monterrey. Fidel, seething at this insult, planned his revenge. Upon returning to Cuba, after mysteriously announcing that he had to leave Mexico, he made public the phone conversation in which Fox had asked him to leave early so that the more important Bush would come.

Fox was humiliated. His subservience to Washington caused him deep embarrassment. The media saw Castaneda’s hand in this fiasco and whatever hopes he had cultivated for a presidential run were dashed. Fidel proved a better hardball player than the academic Jorge. Castaneda maintained his policies to the end, welcoming Osvaldo Paya, a Cuban dissident, to Mexico in January.

How ironic that the Princeton and Sorbonne educated Castaneda, who had adored the Cuban revolution and even supposedly aspired to become a Che type guerrillero in Central America in the early 1980s would see his career and reputation fall at the hands of the revolutionary master himself.

Jorge Castaneda had plans not only for himself as President but for Mexico, whose economic growth would give it the status it deserved as a real player in the world. Without him, Fox’s Cabinet lacks any distinguished intellects. The new Foreign Minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez served for some 15 years as a World Bank official in Asia. Under Presidents Salinas and Zedillo (1988-2000) he supported NAFTA. Of late, he has criticized the trade treaty for its failure to help Mexico.

Derbez might soon find himself involved in a campaign financing scandal, an issue that will limit his power to do anything out of the ordinary. Fox will govern with a “pure” business Cabinet representing the largest and most powerful interests of the Mexican rich a kind of lesser parallel to the Bush government.

In his first two years as President, Fox has accomplished little to help Mexico deal with its growing poverty, declining environmental health. His policies have fostered the disappearance of Mexican agriculture. His growth plan has evaporated as the maquilas, the intended engine of development, have begun to move to China, a cheaper labor market. With Castaneda gone, Fox loses whatever vision existed inside his governing group. This might not be all that bad, considering the kind of twisted and subservient vision Castaneda had developed.

SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest film, IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS, is available from The Cinema Guild -1-800-723-5522. eda, Hello Professor Jorge By SAUL LANDAU

In January, Mexican President Vicente Fox accepted his first cabinet resignation. Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda Gutman resigned and accepted a job as a professor at NYU. One Mexican poll claimed that 77% approved of his leaving. President Fox, deprived of his most learned adviser, looked despondent. The White House praised Castaneda’s work and said it would miss him.

Indeed, where would Bush find a more willing and able Mexican butt kisser? Castaneda backed Washington’s obsolete policy toward Cuba, endorsed its globalization policies that caused misery in Mexico and throughout the third world and even tried to support Bush’s irrational war demands against Iraq.

Castaneda, ironically, resigned because of timing. Washington had counted on Mexico’s vote in the UN. As a non-permanent UN Security Council member Mexico had the chance to play a key role in the internal Security Council politics around the US war against Iraq. President Fox, contrary to Castaneda’s strong advice, had instructed his delegate, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, to vote against the use of force against Iraq. Before going to the UN, Aguilar Zinser, Castaneda’s one-time friend and sometimes rival, had served as Fox’s National Security Adviser. Aguilar Zinser told the media that Mexico opposed Bush bellicose position. Castaneda, reportedly in a rage over being overruled, submitted his resignation.

For most of his term, Castaneda had done what no other Mexican minister had dared do since the Mexican revolution. He had taken an openly pro-Washington position. He explained to Congress and the media that “all nations incline to the U.S. for one reason or another and Mexico will be no exception.” Although his adage had the ring of ugly truth, he had nevertheless revealed the unspeakable, and the traditional political parties, most of whose important members had been clandestinely in the US pocket on issues that mattered to Washington, vehemently denounced Castaneda. The PANistas (The National Action Party — Fox’s party) called him a closet lefty; the pseudo left PRD (Revolutionary Democratic Party) a traitor to the cause of the people.

For all of his obsequiousness to the Bush White House, he could not get Bush to deliver an acceptable immigration arrangement, the most solemn promise candidate Fox had made and could not conveniently circumvent. Castaneda had insisted on abandoning the traditional Mexican posture toward Washington. For more than half a century Mexican governments have maintained a foreign policy that appeared independent from the United States.

Once in a while, appearance even coincided with reality. For example, Mexico refused to obey US dictates to break all relations with Cuba in the early 1960s when the rest of Latin American dutifully fell into line. Instead, Mexico maintained not only diplomatic relations with the communist government of Fidel Castro, but insisted that she had the right to trade with Cuba and even allowed Cubana airlines to run scheduled flights from Mexico to Havana.

However, trade between the two neighbors was practically non-existent and when, in 1969, Cuba purchased a mechanized cane-cutter from a Mexican factory, CIA operatives arrived at the factory, sabotaged the machine and rewrote the repair manual so as to make them incomprehensible to Cuban mechanics.

The regular Cubana flights from the Mexican capital to Cuba also involved peculiar procedures. From documents declassified in the late 1980s we learned that the CIA had arranged with (bribed) Mexican authorities to force each passenger before boarding the Havana flight to submit to a six page questionnaire, filled out by a Mexican paid by the CIA but wearing the uniform of an immigration official. Then the passenger held a number to his chest and had his photo taken. The CIA received the photos.

On some occasions, CIA agents with Mexican police credentials kidnapped prospective US passengers, forced them into cars and drove them to the US border. In 1970 six Americans described to me in vivid detail the highlights of their traumatic experience that began as they pulled up to the Mexico City airport. Burly fellows, armed and carrying some sort of badges threw them into locked cars and drove them straight except for bathroom and gas stops to the Texas border.

Despite this crude collaboration with the CIA’s anti-Castro policies for forty plus years, the Mexican government had maintained the facade of absolute correctness with Cuba. Hardly overrun with friends in the hemisphere, Cuba accepted the facade as convenient and in return did not attempt to “export” to Mexico the revolutionary ideology that she gladly dispensed to the rest of the third world. The Mexican government used its supposedly fair and just Cuba policy against its own left. On the one hand it heralded the sovereignty of Cuba and its right to have its revolution, while smashing its own left for having those same ideas.

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the government murdered and tortured thousands of leftists. The United States, even after it “discovered” human rights as a foreign policy criteria under Jimmy Carter, 1976-80, remained quite silent, appropriately bowing to Mexican “sovereignty.” Luis Echeverria Alvarez, Minister of Gobernacion (Interior) in the late 1960s and President from 1970-1976 made militant speeches about third world independence and swore allegiance to Cuban sovereignty. But he acceded not only to the “cute” CIA capers with Cuba but the bloody 1968 assault at Tlatelalco where the government’s repressive forces slaughtered hundreds of protesting Mexican youth. Echeverria was a product of the seven decade long ruling culture of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). The record of Mexico’s ruling party qualifies it for a place in the Guinness Book of records: length of 20th Century governance plus the quality and quantity of its corruption.

Then in 2000, Mexican voters ousted the ossified and deeply destructive PRI and elected Vicente Fox. The leaders and members of the rightist PAN party, an olio of Franco type fascists, sincerely reformist Catholics and opportunistic business and professionals, were shocked when Fox appointed a leftish, scholar-journalist albeit the son of a former foreign minister to the Chancellor post. Since the fall of the USSR, however, Jorge Castaneda, an ex commy intellectual, had also gained respect and renown from prestigious establishment circles.

In office, he became not just conservative, but downright obsequious toward Washington. He justified his servility by explaining that in the globalized and uni-polar power world Mexico had to change its traditional and meaningless charade of independence and bargain with the great master as a subservient nation. By doing this, he argued, he could get Washington to agree to sign a treaty legalizing the 3 plus million Mexicans who live in the United States without the protection of green cards or other legal papers.

He failed. The lesson: the White House flatulates in the face of butt-kissers. In Castaneda’s case, Bush, citing post 9/11 security reasons, refused to legalize the Mexicans inside the US, thus crowning two years of working in vain toward one major goal. Castaneda resigned. He knew from his mastery of Washington politics that going against Bush’s wish on Iraq at the UN meant certain defeat for an immigration plan.

In Washington, high officials expressed genuine disappointment over Castaneda’s departure. In Havana the opposite emotion prevailed. Indeed, the Cubans had accused Castaneda of acting as Washington’s agent in pursuing Cold War policies against the island. In February 2001, after a year of Castaneda’s openly provocative anti-Castro remarks, Fox traveled visit to Havana to celebrate the centennial of Mexican-Cuban relations. Castaneda’s behavior infuriated Castro. Just as US Members of Congress cover their asses by meeting with dissidents after conferring with Castro, Castaneda arranged for Fox to meet these “dissidents.” Then in the Spring of 2001, Castaneda broke another Mexican tradition when, instead of abstaining, he ordered Mexico’s representative to condemn Cuba for human rights violations at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Cuban officials were not alone in reminding the world that Mexico’s human rights record could hardly withstand scrutiny, especially in light of its persecution and often murder — of its own dissidents and the continued maintenance of a 60,000 strong army of occupation in Chiapas.

Castaneda shrugged of such criticism and in March 2002, further alienated Cuban officials. He became the showpiece as the Miami inauguration of a . cultural office. Speaking before the most rabid anti-Castro Cubans, he asserted the “doors of Mexico’s Havana embassy” would be open to dissenters. Within hours, these words landed in Cuba, thanks to Radio Marti, the broadcast financed by the US government.

Predictably, a group of malcontents hijacked a public bus and ran it through the gates of the Mexican Embassy. Mexico’s Ambassador, Ricardo Pascoe, was furious and demanded that Castaneda agree to allow Cuban police to remove the gate-crashers, who were partying at the Embassy. Castaneda had to agree and Cuban authorities arrested the invaders.

Castaneda’s hatred for Castro had become public knowledge by this time. For those who had read his book, Utopia Unarmed, this came as no surprise. The age of armed insurrection was over, he asserted, just before the Zapatista uprising occurred. The Cuban revolution is not only out of date, but hopelessly flawed, the book argued. But what shocked even Castaneda’s admirers was the crudity of the tactics he used against Fidel, who, arguably, has proven himself in the last 44 years, the cleverest of all Latin American leaders.

In March, 2002, Mexico hosted the UN International Conference on Financing for Development in the industrial city of Monterrey. Castaneda had convinced President Fox to bow to a US demand: Bush would attend the conference if Mexico could assure him that Castro would not be present at the same time. So, instead of telling Washington to go shove it, Fox phoned Fidel and asked him to leave before W landed in Monterrey. Fidel, seething at this insult, planned his revenge. Upon returning to Cuba, after mysteriously announcing that he had to leave Mexico, he made public the phone conversation in which Fox had asked him to leave early so that the more important Bush would come.

Fox was humiliated. His subservience to Washington caused him deep embarrassment. The media saw Castaneda’s hand in this fiasco and whatever hopes he had cultivated for a presidential run were dashed. Fidel proved a better hardball player than the academic Jorge. Castaneda maintained his policies to the end, welcoming Osvaldo Paya, a Cuban dissident, to Mexico in January.

How ironic that the Princeton and Sorbonne educated Castaneda, who had adored the Cuban revolution and even supposedly aspired to become a Che type guerrillero in Central America in the early 1980s would see his career and reputation fall at the hands of the revolutionary master himself.

Jorge Castaneda had plans not only for himself as President but for Mexico, whose economic growth would give it the status it deserved as a real player in the world. Without him, Fox’s Cabinet lacks any distinguished intellects. The new Foreign Minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez served for some 15 years as a World Bank official in Asia. Under Presidents Salinas and Zedillo (1988-2000) he supported NAFTA. Of late, he has criticized the trade treaty for its failure to help Mexico.

Derbez might soon find himself involved in a campaign financing scandal, an issue that will limit his power to do anything out of the ordinary. Fox will govern with a “pure” business Cabinet representing the largest and most powerful interests of the Mexican rich a kind of lesser parallel to the Bush government.

In his first two years as President, Fox has accomplished little to help Mexico deal with its growing poverty, declining environmental health. His policies have fostered the disappearance of Mexican agriculture. His growth plan has evaporated as the maquilas, the intended engine of development, have begun to move to China, a cheaper labor market. With Castaneda gone, Fox loses whatever vision existed inside his governing group. This might not be all that bad, considering the kind of twisted and subservient vision Castaneda had developed.

SAUL LANDAU teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. His new film, IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS, is available through The Cinema Guild. 1-800-723-5522. He can be reached at: landau@counterpunch.org

 

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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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