President Vicente Fox Feuds with Argentine, Venezuelan Leaders after Americas Summit

Article excerpt

President Vicente Fox has become entangled in what could be his administration's worst diplomatic crisis following a series of public spats with Presidents Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

The tensions between the Mexican president and his Argentine and Venezuelan counterparts followed Fox's staunch defense of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) at the IV Summit of the Americas gathering of regional leaders at Mar del Plata, Argentina, Nov. 4-5.

Fox, along with US President George W. Bush, has been one the staunchest supporters of the regional-integration plan first proposed by former US President Bill Clinton in 1994 (see Chronicle of Latin American Affairs, 1994-03-05 and NotiSur, 1994-12-16).

The FTAA has encountered many stumbling blocks (see NotiSur, 2001-04-07, 2003-12-05). The members of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR), including economic giants Argentina and Brazil, have proposed an alternate vision for regional integration (see NotiSur, 2003-10-24). The MERCOSUR countries, along with Venezuela, were especially vocal in opposing the FTAA at the 2005 summit, undermining efforts by the US, Mexico, Canada, and other countries to resume discussions on the plan at Mar del Plata.

Fox criticizes counterparts for opposing trade plan

In an interview with Mexican media, Fox criticized the leaders who strongly opposed the FTAA effort, singling out Kirchner and Chavez. He told reporters that Kirchner, as summit host, had the responsibility to seek a consensus among attending nations to back the FTAA. "Instead, the impression that several of us got there was that [Kirchner's] thinking was directed more at satisfying public opinion in Argentina and involved more with Argentines' image of the president than in achieving a successful summit, with American integration," Fox said.

Kirchner wasted no time in responding to Fox's criticism, saying the Mexican president had no right making any comments about Argentina's domestic policies. "President Fox should concern himself with Mexico, and I will worry about meeting the needs of the Argentine people," said Kirchner.

Some observers said Fox's disagreements with Kirchner were not limited to public criticisms but were also evident in his actions at Mar del Plata. "There was a certain pettiness to some of Fox's actions," said Kelly Arthur Garrett, a columnist for the Mexico City English-language daily newspaper The Herald. "According to newspaper reports, he didn't clap after Kirchner's public address. He even refused to attend the gala supper."

Mexico mends fences with Argentina, but not Venezuela

The exchange of harsh words created concerns that diplomatic relations between the two countries would be endangered. This led to an emergency meeting between Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez and Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa to try to reduce tensions.

After a series of meetings, Derbez and Bielsa concurred that a break in relations was not in the interest of either country. At a press conference following a meeting in Buenos Aires, the two officials said they were confident that bilateral relations remained "excellent" and would continue to "strengthen at all levels."

The situation was much different with the Mexico-Venezuela relations, where a downgrade of diplomatic ties occurred. At the summit, Fox condemned Chavez's motives for opposing the FTAA, suggesting that the Venezuelan leader was merely trying to divert attention from some controversies at home. "There we have some presidents, fortunately a minority, who blame other countries for all their problems," Fox said in reference to Chavez.

Fox's comments angered Chavez, who issued strongly worded statements about the Mexican president, whom he called the "lapdog of imperialism," in reference to his close relations with the US government. …