Controversial Foreign Relations Secretary Jorge Castaneda Resigns after Stormy Two-Year Tenure

Article excerpt

Controversial Foreign Relations Secretary Jorge G. Castaneda resigned from his post in early January, following a stormy two-year tenure. Castaneda is the first Cabinet member to leave his post since President Vicente Fox took office on Dec. 1, 2000.

Castaneda's resignation resulted in a minor shuffle of Fox's Cabinet. The president named Luis Ernesto Derbez Bautista, who had served as economy secretary, to replace Castaneda at the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE). Derbez was replaced at the Secretaria de Economia (SE) by Fernando Canales Clariond, who resigned his post as governor of the northern state of Nuevo Leon.

The Nuevo Leon state legislature, in turn, appointed state treasurer Fernando Elizondo to replace Canales as interim governor. Elizondo, like Canales a member of Fox's center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), will hold the post until the next gubernatorial elections in October of this year.

Castaneda faulted for Fox administration's Cuba policy

Legislators from all parties, including many PAN members, frequently questioned Castaneda's performance as Mexico's top diplomat. In particular, the foreign relations secretary is blamed for shepherding the administration's policies that led to the Mexican government's unofficial break with Cuba.

Mexico and Cuba were close allies for decades, including the years when former Presidents Miguel de la Madrid, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and Ernesto Zedillo were in office. The three ex-presidents, all members of the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), made a strong effort to maintain ties to Cuba even though they promoted the neoliberal economic policies that were strongly opposed by Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Relations began to deteriorate under Fox, who attempted to expand economic and political ties with the US at the expense of Cuba. Castaneda, a former leftist, was considered a key player in forging Fox's policies on Cuba.

The deterioration of relations with Cuba came gradually. The first major incident occurred in March 2002, when 21 Cubans invaded the Mexican Embassy in Havana following rumors, linked to Castaneda, that Mexico was opening its doors to all comers (see NotiCen, 2002-03-14). But that incident was small compared with the mishandling of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's visit to Monterrey later that month to attend the UN International Conference on Financing for Development. Castro said he was pressured to leave early at the insistence of US President George W. Bush (see SourceMex, 2002-04-24).

Castro directed some of his criticism at Fox but placed the lion's share of the responsibility for Mexico's Cuban polices on Castaneda, whom he called "diabolical" and "Machiavellian."

Under Castaneda's watch, Mexico voted in April 2002 to support a US-sponsored referendum condemning Cuba's human rights record.

In August, Castaneda again came under fire for a public feud with Ricardo Pascoe, Mexico's ambassador to Havana. During an announcement cancelling a celebration of Mexican Independence Day in Havana, Pascoe said he was being harassed by his own government, and in particular by Castaneda. The ambassador also took issue with statements by the SRE that he had embezzled US$86,000 (see NotiCen, 2002-09-26).

As expected, Castaneda's departure was well-received by members of the Mexican Senate, who accused the outgoing secretary of ignoring their positions on foreign-policy matters and for fueling tensions with Cuba. Additionally, he was accused of putting the interests of the US ahead of those of Mexico. "[Castaneda's] foreign policies were subordinated to the US," said Sen. Manuel Bartlett Diaz, a member of the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

Some opposition leaders are urging Fox to shuffle his Cabinet even more by replacing Agriculture Secretary Javier Usabiaga, Education Secretary Reyes Tamez, Labor Secretary Carlos Abascal Carranza, and Environment Secretary Victor Lichtinger. …