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Vote for Principles

By standing up to the U.S., Mexico can uphold its best traditions

March 13, 2003|Carlos Fuentes

MEXICO CITY — Only days ago, Mexico's former foreign minister, Fernando Solana Morales, said, quite rightly, that on international matters principle corresponds with national interest. The simple clarity of Solana's statement should destroy the obtuse (and opportunist) argument that principles and interests follow opposite paths.

Especially in Mexico's relationship with the United States, the opportunists claim, principles should be left aside in favor of our interests: commerce, immigration, combating organized crime. If we want that agenda to succeed, they argue, we should shelve our principles and look after our interests. To do otherwise would bring about reprisals from the U.S.

But they are wrong. The principles of Mexican foreign policy have two sources: the constitution and historical experience. The constitution calls for self-determination, nonintervention and peaceful solutions.

Experience shows that by holding on to those principles, we have always won. The specter of a reprisal by the U.S. against Mexico's political independence is nothing but a ghost that proves to be imaginary when looking at the last 50 years. Mexico should remember that as it weighs its position on the upcoming U.N. Security Council vote on Iraq.

Mexico actively opposed U.S. aggression and intervention in Guatemala in the 1950s; in Cuba and the Dominican Republic in the 1960s; and in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Granada in the 1980s. During the Central American wars, Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda Sr. built, with French minister Claude Cheysson, the Franco-Mexican accord that gave political status to the Salvadoran guerrillas over the objections of the United States. Then-Foreign Minister Bernardo Sepulveda was the engine behind the Contadora Group -- Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela -- that sought solutions for peace. In these last two cases, Mexico's opposition to the U.S. was riskier than a U.N. vote on Saddam Hussein.

In the face of open aggression and intervention by the Reagan administration against Central America, Mexico worked for a peaceful solution that took the initiative away from Washington and placed it in the hands of the Central Americans. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias' Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 is a testament to that. In all those instances when Mexico has shown its independence, Washington signaled its anger but did nothing against Mexico. It didn't do anything because it couldn't. In the name of what?

What the U.S. should fear more that the hypothetical weapons of Hussein is an internal crisis for its southern neighbor.

A revolutionized and unstable Mexico represents the most dangerous scenario for Washington because it presents an undefensible southern flank. The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. is one of mutual interest and advantage. The border between the two countries is the most porous in the world. Every day thousands of people cross it.

Mexican immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy in agriculture, the service sector and in many other jobs. In fact, they give more than they receive. The insulting insinuations of the inexperienced U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza -- hinting of possible reprisals against Mexico on immigration if Mexico does not vote with the U.S. on Iraq -- are absurd. Mexican workers are indispensable in the United States.

From the first day of the Vicente Fox-George Bush relationship, everybody has been in agreement that, given the legal and political obstacles in the United States, an immigration accord would not be accomplished today or tomorrow but could happen in the distant future. Dependence, then, is mutual. So are responsibilities.

The North American Free Trade Agreement brought a tremendous increase in commercial trade between the U.S. and Mexico. Any reprisal on this front would result in the United States cutting off its nose to spite its face. NAFTA generates millions of dollars annually, and in the U.S., the wallet dominates politics.

I don't see a serious case in which the United States can hurt Mexico because of its independent international stance. Let's get rid of this ghost that only scares the cowards and the disingenuous.

Mexico's political independence in the case of Iraq will contribute forcefully to what the world most needs: a counterpoint to U.S. power. The real danger in our time is not the miserable Hussein. It is a unipolar world dominated by Washington. Creating that counterbalance is a political necessity. Future governments, but especially the democratic government of the United States, will end up thanking France, Germany, Chile, Mexico, Russia and China for their efforts to create a counterpoint to the United States.

It is hoped that President Fox will have in his mind Mexico's proud history on international affairs when he decides how Mexico will vote in the Security Council. Now is the time to maintain our principles to defend our interests.

*

Carlos Fuentes, novelist and critic, is author, most recently, of "My Years With Laura Diaz" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000).

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