WASHINGTON — Mexican President Vicente Fox today will call for scrapping the Western Hemisphere's principal defense treaty and replacing it with a new framework emphasizing mutual defense of human rights in the Americas, a senior Mexican official said.
Fox will tell the Organization of American States, or OAS, in Washington this morning that the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance was designed for the Cold War era and no longer is relevant, the source said. Instead of military treaties, he said, hemispheric security should be driven by a nonmilitary and cooperative approach aimed at threats such as drug trafficking and environmental degradation.
The existing security pact, signed in 1947 and known as the Rio Treaty, allows countries to intervene when another signatory's territory has been attacked or subjected to aggression. The United States has cited the treaty to justify several of its armed interventions in Central America and the Caribbean since the 1950s--including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.
On the final day of his three-day visit to the U.S., Fox will propose that the hemisphere's security be brought to a greater degree within the scope of the OAS and not function as a parallel defense structure under the Rio Treaty. The OAS now plays largely a consultative role on security, although it has become more active in recent years.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Fox administration had informed the U.S. government of its position. The U.S. also has suggested in recent years that the security system needs to be reviewed--but rather by way of strengthening the military role.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, asked Thursday about the Fox initiative, said he had spoken with Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda regarding "some of the concerns they have about the nature of that treaty. But I really don't want to prejudge or start commenting on something that has not yet happened."
In the past, Mexico avoided high-level involvement in regional security matters and declined direct military assistance from the U.S. In the 1970s and 1980s, Mexico supported the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran insurgencies despite U.S. opposition but otherwise kept a low diplomatic profile on contentious issues.
Fox's willingness to take an activist role on hemispheric security policy is the clearest signal yet of his determination to leverage Mexico's new democratic legitimacy--his election broke seven decades of virtual one-party rule--into a more prominent role on the world diplomatic stage.
Richard Feinberg, a professor of international relations at UC San Diego, said neither the old nor any new hemispheric security system would impede American intervention efforts if the United States judged its security to be threatened.
However, a new security agreement could make it more difficult for the U.S. to justify any aggression against Cuba. At the same time, it could put more pressure on the island nation's officials to respect human rights or risk hemispheric action.
The Mexican official said Fox's goal is to mesh the security initiative with the OAS' expected adoption of a new "democratic charter" at a meeting next week in Peru, when foreign ministers from the Americas are expected to make support for democracy a mutual commitment.
Fox's proposal will call for a security system that guards basic human and civic rights and acknowledges explicitly that those issues are not simply internal matters, the official said. To have serious impact, the new security system would need to develop an array of tools--such as election observation teams, visitor programs and other mechanisms--to ensure that countries respect citizens' rights.
"The same principles should apply to Cuba--that human rights are not strictly internal matters, that you cannot violate human rights on the grounds of national sovereignty," the official said. "In practical terms, we want and expect Cuba to be more responsive."
The official said Mexico would offer to host a conference in 2004 intended to be the culmination of a negotiating process for the new hemispheric security system.
"The goal will be to bring it into the OAS, adding into the OAS charter a hemispheric security agenda of mutual commitments that will revolutionize and strengthen and reposition the OAS," the Fox aide said.
U.S. officials also have suggested that the hemispheric defense system needs to be reviewed. Luis Lauredo, the U.S. permanent representative to the OAS, said in a January speech that perceptions of regional security threats have changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. He said the new threats include drug trafficking, environmental disasters and illegal immigration.
Lauredo said that the system needs to be inclusive but that only 25 of 35 countries in the region are members of the Inter-American Defense Board, the body responsible for coordinating regional security.
"Whatever we come up with from this review must be a structure that all states find relevant to their security concerns and in which they can enthusiastically participate," Lauredo said.
Times staff writer Esther Schrader contributed to this report.