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THE WORLD

Castaneda Hands In His Resignation

Mexico's foreign minister had alienated the left, failed to win U.S. migration pact.

January 09, 2003|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Frustrated by dormant U.S.-Mexican migration talks and rebuffed by leftist compatriots dismayed over his approach to Cuba, Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda tendered his resignation Wednesday, President Vicente Fox confirmed.

The timing of the transition was still being discussed and Fox hinted that he might refuse to accept the first departure from his Cabinet since he took office in late 2000.

But widespread leaks of an impending change of chief diplomat and Castaneda's long-rumored disenchantment with his post suggested that a new envoy was imminent.

Fox told reporters he would make a decision by Monday and would name a successor then if he agrees to his close ally's departure.

Mexican media suggested that Castaneda might stay on through January. The daily newspaper El Universal said he wants to represent Mexico at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month to say goodbye to diplomatic colleagues.

Other newspapers, including the daily La Cronica, reported that Economy Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez and Nuevo Leon Gov. Fernando Canales Clariond were the top candidates to replace Castaneda.

A 49-year-old leftist academic who was instrumental in securing victory for the pro-business Fox in 2000 elections that ended 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Castaneda had made a migration accord with the United States the cornerstone of his foreign policy objectives.

Although the migration pact has fallen by the wayside as the Bush administration focuses on its proclaimed war on terrorism, analysts say Castaneda has still managed to craft a more confident and influential Mexican role in international diplomacy during his two years in office.

Having secured a seat on the U.N. Security Council this year, improved relations with Europe and called Cuba's communist leadership to account for human rights violations, Castaneda is credited with improving Mexico's image abroad and expanding its priorities beyond the traditional realm of contentious U.S. border issues.

More experienced in the academic confines of UC Berkeley and Princeton than in the insular world of Mexican politics, Castaneda was considered an unusual appointment for the top diplomatic post when Fox named his Cabinet in November 2000.

Analysts predicted then that Castaneda, whose father served as foreign minister more than 20 years ago, would never last in the job because of his lack of allies in Mexico's entrenched political circles and his reputed arrogance toward those with less intellectual prowess.

Castaneda alienated the leftist political spectrum with his backing of U.S. initiatives to censure Cuban President Fidel Castro. The Cuban leader plotted and waged the struggle that culminated in the 1959 revolution from Mexican soil -- a fact that many in this country regard with pride.

Particularly galling to the Mexican left was a perceived snub of Castro during a U.N. summit in Monterrey, Mexico, last spring, after which Cuba called Castaneda "diabolical" and "Machiavellian."

Castaneda also faced criticism for his handling of the migration issue. Mexican media, including the influential Reforma daily, blasted the foreign minister for "enormous clumsiness" in haranguing U.S. officials to refocus attention on the shelved talks.

Colleagues defended Castaneda, saying he had become increasingly disillusioned with prospects for completing the migration accord to protect the rights and interests of the more than 20 million people of Mexican descent living in the United States.

"His main goal was to achieve a migration accord, and that is not only on the back burner now but entirely off the stove," said Denise Dresser, a political scientist with the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles. "The international environment now is not a happy one for mid-level powers wanting to redefine themselves, given the emphasis on Iraq."

Castaneda had also become increasingly outspoken about the U.S. failure to deter dangerous illegal border crossings.

He complained at a meeting in Houston in June that there was something "fundamentally wrong" with U.S. immigration policy when hundreds of Mexicans were being killed each year crossing the border to take jobs readily available to them once they made their way in. An estimated 1.5 million Mexicans are arrested each year attempting illegal crossings of the 2,000-mile-long border.

"U.S. immigration policies have failed to stem illegal immigration from Mexico and, in exchange, have fostered a dangerous and sometimes lethal black market for human beings," Castaneda charged.

At a November meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission here, President Bush reiterated his insistence that "the United States has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico."

But with diplomatic and military energies firmly directed at terrorism and the threatened war with Iraq, the pledge rang hollow among Mexican officials, who were unable even to secure a date from visiting Secretary of State Colin L. Powell for resumption of migration talks.

At a meeting here Monday with Mexican ambassadors, Castaneda complained about his office's "unrealized goals," most obviously the migration accord, "which is so important for the future ... and for millions of Mexicans."

Castaneda's growing disenchantment with the job had fueled rumors for months that he would leave the Cabinet.

Some analysts, however, speculated that he was lobbying to become education minister in the event Fox accepted his resignation.

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