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

The PAN and Castañeda

Whereas Castañeda attacked the PAN throughout his career, even after he joined Fox’s cabinet, the PAN is divided when it comes to the “leftist intellectual.” Some PAN members believe they can use Castañeda to “extend bridges” (a phrase common in Mexican politics, used mostly for the re-circulation of the same elites) to other “social forces.” Other PAN members have a strong dislike for Castañeda, and oftentimes attacked him in the press. In other words, the PAN has a similar cognitive dissonance towards Castañeda as doesWashington.

Though the PAN found itself defending Castañeda during the break with Castro,[xliv] many in that party, including legislators and those in the senior hierarchy, were openly asking for the foreign minister’s resignation.[xlv] In the PAN headquarters in 2001 a document was circulating among its top leadership reflecting worry about Castañeda’s plans to create a new “presidential” and leftist party using mostly the “moderate” PRI sectors for its structure, and its potential impact on the PAN. The document mentioned this potential party would “attempt to monopolize the image of the change experienced on July 2 [2000] at the expense of the PAN.” The document also worried about the proximity of these political players to Fox and of the possibility that they would “attempt to grab the Fox figure for their own project.”[xlvi]

Though the PAN is the only major Mexican political party that is not inherently anti-American, it never developed a sophisticated-sounding foreign policy concept towards the United States beyond what its founder in the 1930s called the “good brother and good neighbor” policy, i.e., that Mexico could simultaneously be a good brother southwards and a good neighbor northward. Despite a widespread perception to the contrary, this policy is more congruent with the attitudes of the general Mexican population.[xlvii] The PRI regime often accused the PAN of being “sellouts” to American interests and even used the excuse of “national integrity” to steal a PAN gubernatorial victory in the border state of Baja California in the 1950s. Castañeda and his father were part of the PRI elite that oftentimes explained away latter-day frauds against the PAN and justified the PRI’s caricature of the PAN as aU.S. lackey.

The PAN proposed closer business and trade cooperation with the United States and other countries long before Carlos Salinas proposed NAFTA. Several U.S. legislators mentioned to this author that the annual Mexico-U.S. Interparliamentary meetings became constructive only after PAN legislators began to join them.

However, the PAN had shied away, until early 1999, from making an official and institutional visit to Washington. Its popularity with those U.S. political elites from both parties that had heard of the PAN, however, remained high, and its reputation as the “good boy” of Mexican politics seems largely unchanged since the Fox victory. Indeed, the U.S. mainstream media and several opinion-makers inWashingtonbreathed a sigh of relief after the victory of PAN candidate Felipe Calderón in the July 2006 elections against the virulently populist and largely anti-American Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD.

Despite its image of itself, which resembles a form of “learned helplessness” after losing essentially every election since its founding in 1939, the PAN indeed has many qualified internationalists, who have been both loyal to the party and have gained experience and exposure since Fox’s victory. These include: the longtime human rights champion Dr. Tarcisio Navarrete, who is currently at the OAS in Washington and who is a key activist against Castro’s regime; the former director of international relations of the PAN and architect of the Fox campaign’s international strategy Dr. Carlos Salazar, who is currently ambassador before the Council of Europe; the lawyer who, until recently served as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Fernando Margaín; and the U.S.-educated Congressman Carlos Borunda. All seem to be held in high regard in Washington, in the New Yorkinvestment community and among Mexican migrants. Salazar actually became known in Washingtonfor his “win-win” rhetoric of U.S.-Mexico relations, a view he continued openly to espouse after the Fox election in 2000, despite the mistreatment he received from the Bush campaign and the Clintonadministration as candidate Fox’s envoy.[xlviii]

The more setbacks he suffered politically, the closer Castañeda became to the PAN—the only party, ironically, that had not orphaned him. These setbacks were many. The first was his failure to take over an existing party. At one point, he was accused of attempting to take over the Green Party, but was rebuffed by that party’s existing leader, though not before a public and acrimonious fight between them.[xlix] The second was the ouster of Aguilar Zinser as National Security Advisor, the result of a power play against the PAN head of the Interior Ministry, and the subsequent personal break between Castañeda and Aguilar Zinser. The third was his failure to persuade the United States (first through intimidation, then through pleading) to accept a migration accord on his terms. The fourth was his poor image in the main parties, in the general population (an opinion poll put him as the “most obnoxious” figure in the Cabinet[l]) and among opinion-makers,[li] but especially in the Mexican press, which he has since very early in the transition accused of a lack of professionalism.[lii] The fifth was his failure to run as an independent candidate in the 2006 Mexican presidential elections.

Even if Calderón does not appoint Castañeda himself back to the foreign secretariat, the latter’s influence there is likely to be felt once again. Instead of the PAN internationalists mentioned above, Castañeda loyalists form the core of Calderón’s foreign-relations advisors. These include former consul to New York, Arturo Sarukhán, and also the former ambassador to Cuba, Ricardo Pascoe Pierce. Both also hail from the Left and are Castañeda protégés. The latter was suspected by the press of having been appointed to the foreign secretariat during Castañeda’s tenure to create political cadres loyal to the foreign minister’s future political aspirations.[liii]