Vicente Fox vs. Latin America

Mexico City.

If international diplomacy were a wrestling match, Fox Vs Latin America would be an apt sub–title for Mexico’s foreign relations imbroglios in 2006. During the five years plus he has been in office, the Mexican president has taken on the leaders of the Latin American Left one by one, starting with Fidel Castro, with whom he once broke off diplomatic relations,
Diplomatic relations with Cuba were once again endangered last week (Feb 5th) when the Mexican president failed to act after the U.S.–owned Sheraton Hotel chain canceled the reservations of a high–powered Cuban delegation in Mexico City to negotiate with Texas oil companies. The Cubans were kicked out of the swank Sheraton Isabel under the provisions of the Helms–Burton “trading with the enemy” act. Although U.S. laws are not applicable in Mexico, Fox failed to lodge a diplomatic protest with Washington,

Fox’s aggressive defense of free trade and the neo–liberal model now rejected by Latin America often makes it appear that he is carrying Washington’s water. This was most recently displayed at the Mar de Plata Summit of the Americas in November when the Mexican president tried to force endorsement of George Bush’s beloved Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA in its Spanish acronym), which would extend the dubious benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement all the way to Tierra del Fuego. With Fox on the floor, “we don’t have to do much work ourselves” U.S. undersecretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Scanlon told the Argentinean daily Clarin.

Now Fox’s latest bete noir is the most recent passenger on the anti–neo–liberal bandwagon that is sweeping Latin America, Evo Morales, the continent’s first Indian president since Mexico’s Benito Juarez, a Zapotec, in the mid 19th century. But Juarez was a “good” Indian who defended white and mestizo liberal ideals and held is his own people in contempt. Evo is a “red” Indian, proud of his bloodlines and a dangerous socialist who talks bad about ALCA and globalization, weighs the nationalization of natural gas, and pledges to stand up to Uncle Sam.

Evo’s anti–neo–liberal stance was one reason underlying Fox’s decision not to show up at his investiture in La Paz January 22nd. Although the Mexican president’s press secretary Ruben Aguilar pretended that his boss had a prior commitment to attend the inauguration of the new Honduran president, Fox sent foreign minister Luis Ernesto Derbez to Tegucigalpa in his stead. Meanwhile, the highest–ranking Mexican official at Evo’s swearing in was that nation’s outgoing ambassador.

To make the diplomatic snub crystal clear, just days later, the Mexican president flew south to Chile to huddle with president–elect Michelle Bachelet. Mexico and Chile have a bi–lateral trade agreement and both are outspoken advocates of ALCA.

Fox’s no–show in La Paz also avoided another run–in with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez with whom the Mexican president is feuding. Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Morales recently announced the formation of an anti–imperialist front.

By snubbing Bolivia, the Mexican president also expressed its irritation with Morales for having invited Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) whom Evo had personally asked to share the platform with him. The EZLN is still technically at war with the Mexican government.

Despite Evo’s urgings, Marcos, who is touring Mexico with “The Other Campaign”—-an anti–electoral, anti–capitalist crusade that is shadowing the upcoming presidential elections here—-told a predominantly Indian audience in Campeche state that the EZLN was turning down the invite “because it is not our way to go and talk to great leaders. We have chosen to come and listen to you instead because you are never taken into account.”

In spite of Marcos’s rebuff, Evo Morales borrowed a page from the Zapatista playbook when he promised the Bolivian people that he would govern according to the Mayan rebels’ ethic of “mandar obedeciendo”, that is, to govern by obeying the will of the people.

But Fox tipped his hand as to the root reason for his rancor at the new president when he groused to a business group about Bolivia’s refusal to export its natural gas –Bolivia has the second largest reserves on the continent. “Let them eat (their gas) down there” was the pull quote. Back in 2002, Fox thought he had struck a deal with then–president Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada (“Goni”) — Bolivia would build a pipeline to a Peruvian port, the gas would be liquefied and pumped onto tankers and sent up the Pacific coast to at least three LNG terminals to be sited in and around Tijuana, Baja California.

Such energy titans as Chevron, BP, Marathon, Sempra, and Shell were bidding hig. But Goni’s scam to sell Bolivian gas to the transnationals fell apart when he was deposed in a hectic October 2003 uprising in which Evo Morales and his cocalero federations played a crucial role.

Fox’s feud with Morales comes on the heels of celebrated tiffs with other luminaries of the Latin Left.

Item –At a 2002 United Nations Development summit in Monterrey, Fox ordered Fidel Castro to abandon Mexico before George Bush touched down. Although Fidel complied, he later played an audiotape of his conversation with the Mexican president that exposed Fox’s servility to the White House.

With then–foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, a public foe of Fidel’s, running the show, relations with Cuba stumbled from one disaster to the next and in 2004, Fox broke off ties with the rebel island after accusing a Cuban diplomat of spying on Mexico, a remarkable parroting of Washington’s modus operandi. Months later, Castaneda’s replacement, a red–faced Derbez, withdraw the spying charges but relations between Fox and Fidel are permanently strained.

Item –Vicente Fox was vexed with Argentinean president Nestor Kirchner’s keynote address at Mar de Plaza which chastised the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for committing economic crimes against his country. When the Mexican president leapt to his feet in the name of “29 Latin American nations” (really just Mexico, Chile, and Panama) to argue for Bush’s ALCA, Kirchner issued a stinging rebuke, reminding Fox that ALCA was not even on the Summit’s agenda.

After the four nation Mercosur plus Venezuela, a bloc that includes three Latin economic powerhouses, fended off Fox’s “29 nation” ALCA lobby and even eliminated any mention of that beacon of globalization in the Summit’s final declaration, the Mexican president excoriated Kirchner for having stage managed the fracaso. Vicente Fox further infuriated his Argentinean host when he badmouthed football idol Diego Maradona who was among the protestors at Mar de Plata. “For some Latin American leaders diplomacy is to bow their head and accommodate (the United States)” the Argentinean lashed out in an unavoidable reference to Fox.

Item — Fox’s verbal street brawl at Mar de Plata with Comandante Chavez had been simmering ever since the U.S.–inspired April 2002 foiled coup when the Mexican president’s silence was glaringly obvious. After Fox was thwarted at the Summit, an exuberant Hugo Chavez fired away with both barrels. Mexico’s president was “a puppy of the imperialists.” “It makes me sad that the Mexican people have a president who kneels down in front of the North Americans” he told Venezuelan television audiences. The remarks got Fox’s dander up once again and he demanded an immediate apology –“I will never accept that Chavez can insult the dignity of the Mexican people.”

“Don’t mess with me or you’ll get stung” the Venezuelan macho man shot back, and threatened –a la Fidel –to release videos shot at Mar de Plata which graphically showed this “imperial puppy” in action. Ambassadors were withdrawn within 24 hours and diplomatic relations will not be normalized until Mexico selects a new president in July, most probably the left–winger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who, although he leans more to the Bachelet style, should get things back on track between Latin America’s two most significant oil producers. Despite the bad vibes between Washington and Caracas, unlike Mexico, the U.S. has never withdrawn its ambassador from Venezuela.

The northern–most nation in Latin America, Mexico has an historical identity crisis. Is the Aztec nation the gateway to the south or merely an appendage of North America? NAFTA, which made Mexico a geographical part of North America, settled that debate.

But whether attached or not to the U.S., in South America, Mexico has always been viewed as the Global North and distrusted as a stalking horse for Washington. Mar de Plata was just one more chapter in the north–south divide.

“Because of your country’s economic ties to the United States, Mexico’s marketing of itself as a part of Latin America will never dispel the suspicions of those nations further south” Carlos Meza, the former Bolivian president who Evo helped to oust, told the Mexican diplomatic corps in early January. Fox’s invitation to Meza to address the diplomats was seen as one more slap at Morales.

But if Vicente Fox is really doing Bush’s dirty laundry, he has rarely been rewarded for his demeaning efforts. Even his push to win the Organization of American States secretariat for Derbez ran aground when Condi Rice abandoned his candidacy in favor of the Chilean Jose Luis Insulza. Under Bush, Fox’s futile crusade for immigration reform has turned into anti–immigrant counter–reform north of the border and Washington’s plans to build a border wall is the latest payback for the Mexican president’s loyalty to Bush and the neo–liberal model.

Fox’s blind support of ALCA, even though it will cost Mexico trade advantages it has enjoyed under NAFTA, is revealing. As a true believer in the neo–liberal credo, Vicente Fox will apparently work for free.

JOHN ROSS is the author of Murdered By Capitalism.

JOHN ROSS’s El Monstruo – Dread & Redemption in Mexico City is now available at your local independent bookseller. Ross is plotting a monster book tour in 2010 – readers should direct possible venues to