Castañeda’s Legacy for U.S.-Mexico Relations

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During the campaign, Castañeda refused to have Fox be “exposed” to any other U.S. influence other than leftist circles. In their March 2000 visit to Washington, for example, Castañeda refused to have candidate Fox meet with Republican officials despite their repeated attempts, meeting only with left-leaning Democrats such as Congressman David Bonior. Fox, not understanding the intricacies of Washington politics, seemed oblivious to Castañeda’s biases in that city. When Castañeda was asked back at campaign headquarters why he refused to include Republicans in Fox’s agenda, he replied “because they won’t win [the upcoming presidential elections] anyway.”

Two unfortunate incidents were subsequently to convince Fox that Castañeda’s bias against the United States was perhaps justified. This was the perceived snub by top U.S. officials during his presidential campaign. During the Washington visit in March 2000, senior officials in the Clinton administration apparently bowed to pressure from the Mexican embassy and refused to meet with the candidate. An angry Fox vowed to “wake them up.” The campaign officials of Albert Gore also refused repeated requests by Fox’s representatives for a meeting (in addition, his campaign manager’s daughter was working for Fox’s opponent in Mexico City).

Then came April 7, 2000, when candidate George Bush extended a tacit endorsement to Fox’s opponent, PRI candidate and former political police chief Francisco Labastida. Though Bush’s foreign policy advisors during the campaign, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Zoellick, later claimed that the tacit endorsement had been an “accident,” the email exchange between them and Fox’s advisors, published more than a year later in the Washington Post, confirmed that indeed it had been a tacit endorsement and that Rice and Zoellick had ignored repeated calls by the Fox staff to reverse it.[xvi] There is in fact a widespread sense in Mexico, even among reasonable opinion makers, that the U.S. supported the PRI until the very end.[xvii] Several reports of the Bush family’s strong personal ties to PRI officials later emerged in Newsweek and other publications. At the same time, nominally “leftist” publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, etc., had covered the Fox campaign quite favorably—a fact not lost upon the candidate. Fox was disenchanted and irritated with theU.S. political class, forcing both Bush and Gore to call repeatedly on election night and the next day before taking their congratulatory calls.

During the campaign, Castañeda had warned Fox of a “plot” by Washington, of its desire to maintain the PRI in power and to continue “dominating” Mexico. The actions by the Clintonadministration and by the Bush and Gore campaigns seemed to vindicate him. As Yevgeny Primakov in post-Soviet Russia,[xviii] Castañeda positioned himself as the “expert” that could “deal with the enemy.”

After this, Fox’s old view of the “win-win” partnership with the United States began to take an odd shape. In the foreign policy part of his inauguration speech, Fox used unexpectedly harsh language – penned by Castañeda – that warned against “intervention in our internal affairs” and used among others the term “sovereignty” defensively. A foreign commentator wrote that “Fox’s inaugural address discouraged many who had applauded his campaign promises to inject the human rights issues into Mexico’s foreign policy,” adding that “these paragraphs could have been penned by the PRI old guard.”[xix]

It is known among the top PAN leadership that Castañeda had become Fox’s main advisor and not only in international affairs but in all areas of his leadership. Fox seemed to see his foreign minister as the intellectual side that he lacks.  He evidently came to regard Castañeda’s rhetoric about Mexico’s “zone of influence” in Central America, its vital role in limiting the “hyperpower” of the United States and snubbing the PAN’s emphasis on economic liberalization as perhaps the latest intellectual thinking – rather than what they actually were: vulgar Sovietisms.[xx] Fox’s lack of higher education (particularly his lack of understanding of complex international issues) made him unduly dependent on the “leftist intellectual.”

Center for Security Policy

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