Union Tribune

November 16, 2002

Mexico relations with U.S. may slide
Review delivered by ex-ambassador


WASHINGTON The former U.S. ambassador to Mexico
warned yesterday that Mexico risks damaging its relationship to
the United States by holding to what he called an ill-advised
preoccupation with stalled talks aimed at a new immigration

"I do think that the dwelling on the lack of progress is actually
counterproductive," Jeffrey Davidow said in his most wide-ranging
review of the U.S.-Mexico relationship since leaving his Mexico
City post two months ago.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has been seeking permanent legal
status for many of the estimated 4 million Mexicans living illegally
in the United States. 

He also has been pushing for a program that would allow more
Mexicans to work temporarily in the United States, with the
prospect of getting permanent legal status.

The ambitious talks began amid much fanfare as he and President
Bush began their presidential terms but broke down as the United
States concentrated on its war on terror.

Fox regularly has expressed frustration over lack of progress in
the talks, while political opponents in Mexico hound him to deliver
a deal.

Speaking at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank, Davidow
cautioned that Mexico should not "reduce this very complex
relationship to one issue."

And he suggested that Mexico's fixation on immigration could
damage cooperation on a broad range of economic, political and
law enforcement issues.

"We made that mistake for many years . . . when we reduced the
entire relationship to the question of narcotics," Davidow said,
referring to U.S. pressure on Mexico to root out corruption and
attack drug cartels.

"That so poisoned the larger relationship that progress that could
have been made, not only on narcotics but on a host of other
issues, was delayed or faltered," said Davidow, who is now
teaching at Harvard University.

Davidow discounted recent "gloom and doom" pronouncements
about the overall relationship because of the stalled immigration

"In its fundamentals, the relationship has never been better," he
said, calling Mexico's cooperation on border security since last
year's terrorist attacks "superb" and adding that cooperation
against drug trafficking is now "better than I have ever seen it."

Davidow talked pointedly about strains between Mexico City and
Washington in the aftermath of last year's terrorist attacks.

The diplomatic dust-up developed over what many U.S.
diplomats and politicians regarded as a cold, detached response
to Sept. 11 by President Fox, who just a week before the attacks
was feted in Washington during a triumphal state visit intended to
signify a new era of warmth and cooperation.

Davidow noted that the attacks produced a bitter debate in
Mexico about that country's relationship with the United States,
which is often regarded with a potent mix of resentment and

"It was sort of like some people attending a funeral and getting into a fight and ignoring what the funeral was about," said Davidow, adding that Fox came to the United States to show support only after political analysts criticized his tepid response.

"What we really needed most at that time was simply an abrazo," he said, using the Spanish word for "hug."

"And the Mexican political system was incapable of giving it. That
says a lot about the relationship."