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

Castañeda’s view of the human rights issue in Cuba was manifested when 21 asylum-seekers who broke into the Mexican embassy in Havana in March of 2002 were denied political asylum by Mexico and instead were turned over to Castro’s police, with Castro himself observing the handover from the street. An aide to Castañeda mentioned that asylum was not granted because “their life and liberty were not in danger of persecution by the Cuban government.”[xxxii] An angry letter to a newspaper captured the bewilderment of many when it noted that “[Fox] has demanded the protection and legalization of 5 million Mexicans in the U.S., but hands over 21 Cubans to the butchers.”[xxxiii] Though there was some speculation whether the trespassers had indeed been genuine political dissidents or merely provocateurs sent by the Cuban police, the incident nonetheless was perhaps indicative that Castañeda’s plans inCuba are not directly linked to the protection of human rights.

In Colombia, Castañeda may have attempted to use his role in the Fox government to push forth his radical designs for that country. During the Fox campaign, Castañeda continued to espouse to the candidate his traditional support of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) insurgency, or what he called the “social forces.” In Castañeda’s worldview, the FARC have legitimate appeals and should be included as equal partners with the democratically elected government at the negotiating table. He was of the idea that President Andrés Pastrana should continue to deepen and formalize his hand-over of two “southern provinces” (presumably Caquetá andPutumayo) of that country over to the FARC. Castañeda pushed to have his half-brother, Andrés Rozental, be nominated as President Fox’s special envoy to Colombia to assist in the negotiations between the government of Pastrana (who had become a personal friend of Fox’s) and the FARC. Apparently, Pastrana believed that bringing Fox on board would provide a neutral and popular “honest broker” to help mediate with the FARC.

It is not known to this author what position Mr. Rozental espoused in Colombia as Fox’s special envoy. However, he later had a loud personal break with his sibling and lost his task as special envoy. Castañeda’s potential meddling in Colombia also came to an end when Alvaro Uribe was elected president vowing to end negotiations with the FARC.

In Nicaragua, some members of the anti-communist party and government believed that Castañeda had also attempted to use the image of Fox to rehabilitate Daniel Ortega, the former president who would later run for that office again.[xxxiv] In a post-election visit to Central America with the president-elect, Castañeda arranged a photo-op between Fox and Ortega. Later during the presidential election inNicaragua, when Ortega’s opponents used images of Ortega’s association with Muammar Qadaffi and Fidel Castro, Ortega’s campaign responded with images of his embrace with Fox. Ortega nonetheless lost that election and a potentially troubling issue with the democratic forces in Nicaragua and with the United States temporarily appeared to have dissipated.

Castañeda’s support for Ortega and his regime in Nicaragua are well known and date back to the civil war in that country. In 1986, Castañeda praised Ortega as a “moderate,”[xxxv] even as his human rights abuses, specifically the mass repression of the Miskito Indians (hundreds murdered and thousands displaced by force, including 14,000 incarcerated) were already known.[xxxvi] (Ortega would later admit during his campaign of his violent repression in 1983 of those Indians.[xxxvii]) The use of Fox to continue assisting Ortega (and intervening in the internal affairs of Nicaragua) is particularly telling. It is perhaps no coincidence that Castañeda fails to mention Ortega in a recent essay in Foreign Affairs, where he apparently is attempting to clean his image by identifying himself with the “right left,” as he calls it – the modern Left in Latin America. He claims in the essay, with characteristic chutzpah, that former Marxist radicals form the core of this Left, which is “modern, open-minded, reformist, and internationalist, and it springs, paradoxically, from the hard-core left of the past […and] is well aware of its past mistakes.”[xxxviii] While the argument of the liberal versus illiberal Left inLatin America is not new, Castañeda’s particular spin (by purposefully confusing genuine conversion with pragmatic repentance of particular illiberal-Left leaders) is worthy of Joseph Goebbel’s dictum on selling untruths.

 

Castañeda’s Legacy in Retrospect

There was a sense in some quarters of official Washington that Castañeda was indeed the voice of Mexico, and largely reflected Mexico’s newfound national interests. This “realist school of thought” approach to international relations is perhaps misplaced in this case. After all, it is quite unusual for a newly democratized country to sharpen its anti-American rhetoric and actions, even assisting illiberal forces in other countries. Indeed, when Castañeda was replaced by the “grey” former economy minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez, there were no longer any reports in the press of Mexico assisting illiberal forces in Central America, guerrillas in Colombia, or other activities in blatant incongruity with the country’s traditional geopolitical concerns or national interests. In other words, Castañeda’s foreign policy was not a reflection of Mexico’s national interest, but of the personal biases of the-then foreign minister.

Though the Mexican commentators and elites widely differed on Castañeda’s foreign-policy orientation, they overlooked the fact that the foreign minister was not all that successful or even competent. Not only did he fail to achieve the main goals set out by the Fox administration, but his consistent provocations to foreign leaders and Mexican politicians alike, often involving seemingly irrational geopolitical theatrics and contradictory policies, ensured the failure of those goals that he did seek.

One commentator that did follow closely Castañeda’s failed legacy was Sánchez Susarrey. In retrospect, he identifies three serious setbacks, namely:[xxxix]

  1. Distracting Fox with unnecessary foreign trips, while the window of opportunity and Fox’s enormous political capital to pass needed reforms were ticking away back in Mexico. Fox and Castañeda took more foreign trips in their first year than Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell did in theirs.
  2. Basing the entire relationship with Washington on the immigration-reform red herring, whose passage for various reasons was doubtful even before 9/11.
  3. Playing geopolitics against the United Statesby attempting to “balance” Mexico’s relations with other powers, thinking this was innovative policy when in fact “Castañeda behaved like a true emissary from the past.”

Sánchez Susarrey writes that the most successful legacy of Castañeda as foreign secretary was convincing the U.S. State Department to end the annual “certification” of Mexico in the drug war. However, he also speculates that this was done more to recognizeMexico’s transition than to Castañeda’s diplomacy per se.