- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

Jorge G. Castaeda, Mexico's foreign minister, is undergoing a metamorphosis from an anti-American rabble-rouser to a sobered-up government leader representing one of America's closest partners. Yet, many Americans (especially Republicans) are rightly concerned in view of the long history of animosity and accusations that Mr. Castaeda says he has left behind. During this week's official Mexican government visit to Washington, some of his old nemeses wonder if in fact this change in worldview is for real.
Mr. Castaeda is best remembered for his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement. However, reasonable people differed on that issue. Other opinions raised more eyebrows. In the 1980s, Mr. Castaeda famously called for a unilateral moratorium on Mexico's debts (in order to destabilize American capitalism), and often accused Mexican governments as too "pro-American" simply for paying the interests on the debt. When Mr. Castaeda was in the one-party regime, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), he published in the weekly Proceso (Feb. 1985) a lengthy article on how the United States was engaged in a widespread conspiracy between "crazy people" at the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSC to "destabilize" the Miguel de la Madrid government (which was famous for "disappearing" independent journalists). He had mentioned in another article that American reporters were "breaking the taboo" against daring to insult the Mexican president.
Mr. Castaeda was seen then as a lynchpin of the PRI propaganda and disinformation department. For example, much of the bad reputation Sen. Jesse Helms enjoys in Mexico stems from a series of hearings he held in his Senate committee in the 1980s where he criticized the PRI. Mr. Castaeda then called Mr. Helms a "reactionary," toeing the one-party line of calling him a racist and "anti-Mexican."
Later, Mr. Castaeda broke with the PRI not so much out of democratic conviction, but because President Carlos Salinas and his predecessor were too "pro-American." He joined the left-center Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), then the center-right Fox team.
Like his counterparts in Eastern Europe, Mr. Castaeda has vowed that those times are behind him. Or are they?
During the campaign last year, Mr. Castaeda penned a speech for Mexican President Vicente Fox where he mentioned that the PRI only became pro-American because of its "desperate struggle for survival" (Mr. Fox deleted that phrase). His view still is that Mexicans who are not anti-American (such as Mr. Fox's party, the PAN) are that way because they need legitimacy they can't get at home. In that speech, he vowed that Mexico would return to its "traditional" relation with the United States (Mr. Fox also deleted that).
When Mr. Fox paid a visit to Washington in March 2000, he assigned Mr. Castaeda to organize the trip. Mr. Castaeda scheduled no time with any Republicans, the only congressmen they met were Democrats and his personal friends. The Republicans made several calls to him in an effort to schedule a meeting, but he turned them down. Worse, he mentioned publicly that "We did not come here to see Jesse Helms." Back in Mexico, we asked why he had not met with Republicans. "Because they won't win anyway," he replied.
For someone who accused the United States of constantly intervening in the internal affairs of Mexico, Mr. Castaeda seems to believe that doing the same in the opposite direction is fine. This got us into some hot water with the Republicans during the campaign, since he broke with the strictly bipartisan approach that Carlos Salazar, the young head of foreign relations of Mr. Fox's party, was conducting at that time. Mr. Castaeda's March trip, and his talk of needing to "help out" his old friend Robert Pastor, then an adviser to the Democratic Party, is perhaps the reason why on April 7, Bush campaign advisers extended a tacit endorsement to the PRI candidate Francisco Labastida.
On the Helms issue, it seems that Mr. Castaeda fell victim to his own propaganda. In fact, nowhere in the transcripts of those Senate hearings, entitled "Situation in Mexico" did Mr. Helms speak against the Mexican people, but quite the contrary. He called them "decent and hardworking, but forced to live under system." I once in jest offered 1,000 pesos to Mr. Castaeda if he could tell me where in that report Mr. Helms insulted Mexico. He threw one of his famous tantrums, but at least I still have the money.
Yet all his concerns for human rights and social justice simply did not apply to communist dictators, for which Mr. Castaeda professed to have a "weakness." His particular favorite was the Romanian Nicolae Ceausescu, whom he still defends to this day in private conversations. Another is former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has recently admitted to many violent crimes against Indian tribes during his administration in the late 1980s. Nonetheless, in a visit last year to Nicaragua, Mr. Castaeda took Mr. Fox to see Mr. Ortega "so he can learn from him."
While Mr. Castaeda was important for the Fox campaign domestically - to convince certain elements of the left to vote for Mr. Fox - he only caused problems in the international arena. He still causes controversy, even with other close Fox allies. The small Green Party, the junior partner in the two-party coalition that brought Mr. Fox to power, loudly broke with Mr. Fox this week. The Greens' leader cited Mr. Castaeda's attempts to meddle inside that party's affairs as a chief reason.
Last year, Mr. Castaeda told a U.S. reporter that Mr. Fox would do a "Nixon in China" with the United States (only a leader like Mr. Fox would have the legitimacy to do what Mr. Castaeda could only dream of).
However, there are some optimistic signs. When asked recently about all these views, Mr. Castaeda mentioned "those were other times." Mr. Castaeda should be admired for undergoing such change in worldview in just a few months.

Fredo Arias-King helped to handle relations with Washington for the Vicente Fox campaign.


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