New Day for U.S.-Mexico Relations

By Waller, J. Michael | Insight on the News, August 14, 2000 | Go to article overview

New Day for U.S.-Mexico Relations


Waller, J. Michael, Insight on the News


Mexico's new ruling party sent a delegation to Washington to outline its agenda for healing 70 years of institutional corruption. Both sides liked what they saw and heard.

I would rather have temporary inexperience than permanent sabotage," declared Vaclav Havel, then Czechoslovakia's first post-Communist president, when the youth and relative inexperience of much of his democratic Cabinet was questioned.

Mexico's president-elect, Vicente Fox, who toppled a seven-decades-old kleptocracy in July 2 elections, would do well to consider Havel's dictum. No sooner had the vote been counted than his victorious center-right National Action Party, known by its Spanish initials PAN, sent a delegation to Washington to meet with U.S. leaders and explain its vision for ruling Mexico after 70 years in the opposition. Led by the articulate, capable Carlos Salazar, the PAN's European-educated director of international relations, the Mexican team demonstrafed a sophisticated understanding of Washington's power structure. They refreshingly described a "win-win" bilateral relationship, as opposed to the Yankee-baiting that the old ruling establishment had made a national sport.

And they received an enthusiastic welcome wherever they went. Salazar and his savvy thirtysomething colleagues had more high-level meetings in Washington in a week than has any Mexican ambassador in recent memory: not only substantive discussions with the highest-ranking State Department officials in town, but with the top leaders in Congress as well.

Senior House members broke from their extremely tight schedules in the middle of fiscal-2001 appropriations battles to attend a luncheon sponsored by Republican Rep. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, cochairman of a congressional project with Russia, to introduce the PAN to Congress. The gathering was an impressive collection of Republicans and Democrats, including key committee and subcommittee chairmen. Even House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois went to the Capitol dining room to search out Salazar and his delegation. "It was quite a sight -- the Speaker of the House came to see the Mexican PAN visitors, not vice versa," noted a Capitol Hill observer.

Speaking for the PAN, Salazar and his group showed a keen understanding of how U.S. political and diplomatic power really works, according to congressional figures who met with them. That bodes well for Mexico and the United States. The ideology of the now-toppled Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, stressed confrontation with the United States So do the often shrill English-speakers on Fox's left. While the PAN delegation was showing Mexico's new face in Washington, old-line activists from outside PAN, with long pedigrees of anti-U.S, agitprop, maneuvered to try to grab the diplomatic portfolio on the Fox transition team.

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