Union Tribune

January 9, 2003 

Foreign minister resigning from Mexican Cabinet
Casteñeda forged closer ties with U.S.


MEXICO CITY – Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, a
former leftist professor who became the chief architect of closer
ties to the United States, has submitted his resignation after
failing to win sweeping reform of U.S. immigration policy.

President Vicente Fox confirmed last night persistent rumors
that Castañeda wanted to leave public life. But the president
refused to say whether he would accept the resignation.

"I am contemplating his petition and deciding whether we accept
this resignation or whether we insist that he continue," Fox said
during an impromptu news conference aboard his presidential
aircraft en route to Mexico City.

Fox said he would announce his decision Monday.

However, sources said the president has already tapped Finance
Minister Ernesto Derbez, a low-key economist who has been
responsible for negotiating trade agreements, to be foreign

Castañeda, 49, a brilliant but mercurial diplomat who left
academia two years ago to join Fox's Cabinet, succeeded in
raising Mexico's international profile. Fluent in English and
French, he was hailed abroad for his sophisticated
understanding of global politics.

Castañeda demonstrated Mexico's new diplomatic assertiveness
when the country pushed for – and won – a rotating seat on the
U.N. Security Council last year. And he garnered kudos at home
when Mexico joined France and Russia in pushing the United
States away from its insistence on a United Nations resolution
that could have triggered an immediate war with Iraq.

But Castañeda was frustrated by his inability to forge an
agreement that would ease restrictions on Mexicans working in
the United States, political analysts said.

After first receiving positive signals from the Bush
administration about significant changes in immigration policy,
Mexico's hopes were dashed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"His resignation signals that the migration negotiations are going
nowhere fast," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the
National Immigration Forum. "It signals that he was not going to
be able to realize the Fox administration's top foreign-policy

The son of a former foreign minister, Princeton-educated
Castañeda "knew how to turn an issue upside down and change
the course of the debate," said political analyst Federico Estévez.
"The way he managed bilateral relations always played in Fox's
favor. Foreign policy is where Fox gets the highest ratings across
the board."

Castañeda brought bold changes to Mexican foreign policy,
reflecting the political renewal signaled by Fox's July 2000
election after 71 years of one-party rule, analysts said.

"Castañeda and Fox designed a foreign policy that was a lot more
active and more critical and at the same time more open to
criticism of Mexico," said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, of the
Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"The foreign policy mirrored the political opening at home."

But even as Castañeda gained respect in some political circles,
he was pounded by the Mexican left, his former ideological
allies, who accused him of making the country a stooge to the
United States on critical issues.

Those attacks took their most caustic form last spring after an
international conference on economic development in Mexico,
where Fox sought to accommodate President Bush by asking
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to leave early.

Fox initially denied having made the request, but uproar ensued
when Castro indignantly summoned reporters to hear a tape of
their conversation.

"Castañeda recognizes that for Mexico the relationship with the
United States is their most important relationship," said the
former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Jeffrey Davidow. "Other
Mexican foreign ministers have tried to disguise that reality. One
of Castañeda's strengths was to lay that out in the open – without
meaning that Mexico had to be subservient to the United States.

"I think his most valuable contribution has been that he used his
very considerable intellect to take on some of the standardized
beliefs about Mexican foreign policy," Davidow said.

Jerry Kammer contributed from Washington.