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

by Fredo Arias-King

Two years into Jorge Castañeda’s tenure as Mexico’s foreign secretary, I wrote a paper for the Hudson Institute which was circulated privately among some officials in the Bush administration and others in Washingtoninterested in an alternative point of view and lesser-known facts about Castañeda. As is known, most of the U.S. mainstream media, academics and members of the Democratic Party admire Castañeda and portray him in largely a positive light, though some Republican officials mostly associate him with his long history of anti-American agitation.

Though the presidency of Vicente Fox was largely perceived as a disappointment,[i] with few tangible results in both domestic and foreign policies, there are reports in the Mexican press that president-elect Felipe Calderón may reassign Castañeda to the top diplomatic post or another Cabinet-level position. In light of this, the old 2002 paper has been updated here as it may be of interest to those following not only Mexican politics and U.S.-Mexico relations, but also Hemispheric security issues.



Mexico’s election in July of 2000 ended 71 years of a one-party dictatorship. Countries in transition also tend to redefine their foreign policies, often dramatically, and Mexico was no exception. The new president, Vicente Fox, of the pro-democracy and pro-economic freedom National Action Party (PAN), surprised some by appointing a former communist with a long history of virulent anti-Americanism to the post of foreign minister, Jorge G. Castañeda, who served in that office until his resignation in January of 2003.

At the time of his appointment in late 2000, there was a view in Washington circles that Castañeda continued to harbor anti-American feelings and would strive to create problems for the United States. Others argued that his conversion to democracy, as with his fellow communists in Eastern Europe, was genuine and he represented no threat to theUnited Statesor its interests. An example of the former could be found in a memorandum written shortly after Fox’s election victory by a then-staffer to Senator Jesse Helms who was soon-to-become the Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Roger Noriega.  Unlike most of official Washington, Noriega had openly sympathized with Vicente Fox and the PAN but felt constrained to raise concerns about the future of the bilateral relationship under Castañeda’s influence:

U.S.-Mexico relations—which already are on a stable, institutionalized footing—should improve systematically with Fox’s victory. However, this opportunity may be squandered because Fox has designated two leftist intellectuals with distinctly anti-U.S. instincts to manage his international relations.

U.S. observers who hoped that a Fox victory promised warmer relations with the United States and that foreign affairs would no longer be the “sandbox” for Mexico’s left will be disappointed by Fox’s choice of two anti-U.S. archetypes to lay the foundations of his foreign policy. Fox has designated intellectual and writer Jorge G. Castañeda and independent Senator Adolfo Aguilar Zinser to head his foreign relations transition. Both are relentless critics ofU.S.foreign policy.

This paper is based on Castañeda’s original writings and his conduct as foreign minister.  It is also informed by the opinions Castañeda expressed to candidate Vicente Fox and other campaign officials between early 1999 and July of 2000. This author, along with the PAN’s director for international relations, Dr. Carlos Salazar, had broad responsibility for relations withWashingtonin the Fox campaign between March of 1999 and July of 2000, working both out of the PAN as well as the Fox campaign headquarters. Visiting the United States 17 times during the campaign and also being exposed to Castañeda at campaign headquarters gives this essay perhaps a unique perspective.