Mexico: How they see the United States

While you were following Secretary of State Colin Powell's "failed" peace mission to the Middle East in recent days, I was visiting my wife's family in Mexico City. While there, I relied on the Mexican media to keep track of what was going on in the world.

Here's what I learned from reading a week's worth of news and commentary in Mexican dailies: 1) The United States engineered the abortive coup attempt against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; 2) the U.S. pressured Mexico into voting against Cuba in a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission; 3) the Pentagon tried to exert undue influence over Mexican armed forces by creating a new military command, and 4) Mexico will ask the Inter-American Human Rights Court to protect the "rights" of undocumented (illegal) immigrants in the United States.

Other than that, U.S. D Mexico relations are just fine. Let's take a closer look at each of these issues.

The Venezuelan coup attempt received saturation coverage in the Mexican media. Most of them published an unsubstantiated New York Times report that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Otto J. Reich (my boss in Venezuela during the period 1986-89) called businessman Pedro Carmona to congratulate him for assuming the presidency after Chavez allegedly resigned.

Although the State Department denied any ReichDCarmona phone call, Mexican journalists were predisposed to believe the report because they love conspiracy theories involving the U.S. and, besides, they're inclined to blame us whenever anything goes wrong in Latin America. As the old saying goes, Poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States.

What the Mexican media glossed over, however, was that Chavez, a left-wing populist, created the violent (dozens of deaths) confrontation with Venezuelan businessmen and workers by trying to stifle the country's free-market economy, taking over the state-run oil company, censoring the media and aligning himself with dictators like Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein.

A chastened Chavez returned to the presidency 48 hours after the coup attempt, promising to establish dialogue with his domestic critics, but the situation remains volatile. Meanwhile, the U.S. is trying to stay out of the line of fire.

As I departed Mexico City, local dailies published the transcript of a telephone conversation between Castro and Mexican President Vicente Fox, in which Fox asked Castro not to criticize President Bush or the U.S. during an international conference at Monterrey, Mexico, earlier this month.

Many Mexican commentators, journalists and opposition politicians were outraged because a longtime tenet of Mexico's foreign policy has been to demonstrate "independence" by opposing U.S. foreign policy while maintaining cordial relations with Cuba. So President Fox broke the rules and paid a high price for it.

Publication of the FoxDCastro transcript came on the heels of Mexico's vote against Cuba in the UN Human Rights Commission, favoring a resolution authorizing the commission to conduct an investigation of Cuba's abysmal human rights situation. That caused a political uproar in Mexico as opposition parties accused Fox of selling out to Bush and the Yankee imperialists, who supported the innocuous resolution. An angry Fidel Castro retaliated by releasing the telephone transcript.

Next, the Mexican media charged the Pentagon with attempting to interfere in Mexico's internal affairs by creating a Northern Command responsible for military relations with Canada and Mexico. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow, one of the top American diplomats in the Western Hemisphere, quickly assured the Mexicans that "the decision to create the new command means no change in the U.S. government's absolute recognition of Mexican sovereignty. This is a decision relating to the internal organization of the U.S. military (and) a response to new circumstances created by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ...."

Although Davidow's statement defused the mini-crisis, the flap illustrates continuing Mexican sensitivity to anything and everything that happens in Washington.

And then there's the thorny question of what to do about millions of illegal immigrants -- always referred to as "undocumented workers" in Mexico -- who live and work in the United States. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that illegal workers don't have the same rights to restitution as American citizens or legal residents who are mistreated on the job. That set off another firestorm in the Mexican media and Interior Secretary Santiago Creel vowed that Mexico would appeal the U.S. ruling to the toothless Inter-American Human Rights Court, based in San Jose, Costa Rica.

"The borders are only territorial boundaries and should in no way attack or limit the human rights every person is entitled to," Creel argued. And Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda announced that Mexican consulates in the U.S., including the new one in Las Vegas, would soon begin issuing "official" identity cards to illegal immigrants in what appears to be a blatant attempt to confuse and/or evade American law enforcement authorities.

All of these political issues tell me that the traditional love-hate relationship between the United States and Mexico is alive and well in the 21st century.

Will it ever change? Probably not, because while we're always in the Mexicans' thoughts, we rarely think about them and the rest of Latin America -- not because we're ugly Americans but due to the reality of our global concerns and responsibilities that extend far beyond the Western Hemisphere, especially after Sept. 11. And that's something we, and our Mexican friends, will just have to live with for the foreseeable future.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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