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

While Sánchez Susarrey assumes that an immigration accord was unpopular with U.S. elites even before 9/11, my experience in speaking with 50 U.S. legislators about immigration during the Fox campaign and in the immediate aftermath, is that an accord favorable to Mexico was actually quite popular among them (only five held unequivocal reservations) and within reach.[xl] However, Castañeda’s confrontational diplomacy may have sabotaged the possibility of its passage. Although he criticized it in previous articles, Sánchez Susarrey did not list directly Castañeda’s “Bolivarian dream” and his penchant for intervention in the internal affairs of neighboring states on behalf of anti-U.S. forces.

Many Republican specialists on Latin Americawere willing to give Castañeda the benefit of the doubt in 2000 and work with him. Others, such as Noriega, had lingering doubts. However, Castañeda’s continued provocations against not only theUnited Statesbut Republicans in particular tipped the balance in favor of Noriega’s views among the core of Republican specialists. Castañeda banked openly on a Democratic victory in theUnited Statesin the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections. As foreign secretary, he had spent much time courting leaders such as Tom Daschle and Richard Gephardt on the migrants issue, deepening even more his already low-standing with leading Republicans (one told this author, “it’s as if we started to court the PRI and PRD leaders to speak about Mexican oil”). As a private citizen, Castañeda repeatedly advocated a victory for John Kerry in the 2004U.S.presidential elections, announcing on Mexican television on election night that the Democrat’s victory “is irreversible.”

The controversial debate on amnesty for the undocumented Mexican immigrants also gave notoriety to the foreign minister. Castañeda was criticized in Mexico for rejecting a generous offer by the Bush administration to extend over one hundred thousand additional visas to Mexican undocumented migrants, instead demanding the now-famous “whole enchilada.” The negotiating tactics with Washington that he favored did not help either. Fox demanded (not requested) legalization at a joint press conference with President Bush in the Rose Garden during his visit early September of 2001, just before the Mexican government unexpectedly announced its intention to withdraw from the Rio Treaty.

Castañeda used similar negotiating tactics with officials in Congress and the State Department. Another controversial tool was his active courting of migrant leaders and other non-governmental activists, a practice which is expressly prohibited in Mexico (by the Constitutional article 33) and that can be considered interference in the internal affairs of another country. Interestingly, consistent with his past practice, Castañeda was not really defending the human rights of these migrants.  Instead , hesaw them as a “tool” to press the United States, as he wrote in many occasions. Indeed, as early as the 1980s, Castañeda’s writings on Mexican migrants in the United States tended to depict them less as “subjects” and more as “objects” in Mexico’s power game against the United States.[xli]

Some argue that Castañeda’s lust for power moderated his ideological stance. There are some indications that this is true. Whereas during the campaign, Castañeda spoke to Fox of the need to “limit the hyperpower of the United States” through an alliance between Mexico, Russia, China, France and India, he later conceded publicly that U.S. hegemony is a fact.[xlii] Ironically, Castañeda is perceived in Mexico as a lackey of the United States, betraying Cuba and Mexico’s “traditional” foreign policy, which has essentially compromised his standing in the illiberal Left. (By contrast, liberal leftist intellectuals such as Joel Ortega have publicly called for Mexico to break with the Castro regime and embrace the democratic forces in the island.) Many opinion-makers in the illiberal Left routinely accuse the foreign minister of ties to the CIA.


The Mind of Castañeda

Knowing that some of his policies and pronouncements would undermine his overall goals, why did Castañeda still behave in a manner that predictably would affront politicians – in more than one country – whose help he needed to succeed? This is difficult to answer, and takes us back to the allegations of “irrationality” by some of his former close collaborators.

Political scientist Sam Huntington once classified Mexico as a “torn” country, similar to Turkey and Russia, unsure about its identity and therefore unable to anchor itself firmly in the West. Castañeda seems to reflect this “torn” ambivalence. (He, however, recently in an almost Freudian way projected on Mexicohis own ambivalence towards the United States, mentioning that Mexico’s anti-Americanism is leading to “schizophrenia.”[xliii])

Castañeda indeed suffers from a sort of “cognitive dissonance” towards the United States that is particularly evident in his view of the Republican Party. It seems that Castañeda has trouble accepting the legitimacy of the Republican Party, but not of the “progressive forces” and of those U.S. leftist media outlets that oppose it. Sporadic reports of Castañeda personally taunting U.S. officials he dislikes (mostly conservative Republicans) is a troubling sign that perhaps he still has difficulty separating his personal biases from the exigencies of Mexican diplomacy.

Rather than a zero-sum game, Castañeda perhaps simply is continuing the Latin American tradition of expecting favors from the United States while not considering reciprocity in the relation, believing instead that Washington is obliged to provide these favors to make up for past “mistreatment.” This strategy works because, as Richard Perle once said about American foreign policy, “We don’t expect much in return.” In essence, theUnited Statesseems content providing its “adolescent allies” such as Mexico with favors while not putting a cost on their unhelpful behavior, leading to what I described elsewhere as a co-dependent bilateral relationship.

Center for Security Policy

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