Un-Mexican Standoff

Mexico's possible "no" vote on Iraq may come with a price

By Fernando Oaxaca
Published on LatinoLA: February 28, 2003

Un-Mexican Standoff

Reuters News Service in a February 24th dispatch headlines, "U.S. Love affair with Fox on Rocks over Iraq." So which is the spurned "lover," President George W. Bush and the United States or Mexico and its first non-PRI leader, Vicente Fox? Let's face it folks.

Mexico has "dumped" the U.S.

The unceremonious and probably unwise rejection by Mexico of the American position on Iraq was communicated to media this weekend by Santiago Creel Miranda, the Interior Minister. Less than 48 hours before, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza, in a public address, had asked for Mexico to support the U.S. on voting for a second U.N. Security Council resolution, giving Iraq a deadline to disarm, or else.

Why Secretary Creel, rather than new Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez, was the bearer of the "returned friendship ring" is in itself a bit strange. Perhaps it was a further signal that Mexico is in a surly mood, feeling that its desire to see significant progress on the U.S./Mexico immigration question has been unjustly set aside by us since 9/11. The Interior Minister in the Mexican Government has traditionally been the "muscle", the enforcer, behind Mexican presidents. Foreign secretaries have tended to deliver messages, not formulate them. So it was time to bring out the tough guy.

Also, it is no secret that President Fox has been taking a lot of heat from the opposition party, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and the merciless Mexican press about sucking up to the northern "Yanquis." This criticism of Fox is not new but has grown in boldness since 9/11 and attendant U.S. concerns about border security placed immigration reform on the Congressional and Administration's back burner.

The Mexican psyche has suffered from a vague distrust of the U.S. for eons, possibly since they lost in the Mexican War in the mid 1800's. Suspicion and doubt about American motives towards its southern neighbor or a near-paranoia about U.S. exploitation of Mexico or its resources, including its people, has always lurked just in the background of U.S./Mexico relations. Perhaps the relationship has also been clouded by a measure of envy or even disdain that Mexicans have lived with as the U.S. grew and prospered in the last century, while Mexico languished for decades, trapped in revolution and instability.

The issue of how chummy Fox should be with the Tejano President of the United States really stems from their almost coincidental inaugurations and the positive chemistry which sprang up between the two men early in their presidencies. The Bush/Fox axis was a new experience for Mexicans, used to almost being ignored by past American presidents or by the effete American State Department, normally concerned, priority-wise, with Europe or the Middle East. And, Mexicans, especially in the capital, perhaps reflecting a residue of arrogance from their short dalliance with French culture via Emperor Maximillian in the 1860's, have never been totally approving of the manners of their richer northern cousin. So the Bush connection was, and probably still is, a hair suspect.

But now, Mexico has spoken in no uncertain terms....on Iraq. The Mexican press over the weekend seemed almost bursting with nationalistic, macho pride as it reported and splashed "OP-ED's" that trumpeted the decision to vote "for peace" and for "international unity." Brassy "La Jornada" (The Journey) went so far as to offer its readers a list of the disadvantages to Mexico from going along with the U.S. on Iraq. Nothing wrong with that, except the listing was articulated by the Iraqi charge d?affaires in Mexico City!

Not mentioned by the Iraqi are the reasons that Mexico may regret its decision to abandon President Bush and the group of "the willing" nations that want to be tough with the defiant Saddam Hussein, even to the point of war. To the mainstream American media, Mexico is a minor player and just one more recalcitrant buddy of France and Germany in the anti-Bush Security Council cabal. But to the conservative radio and TV talk-show hosts like Shawn Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, bashing Mexico for "betrayal" and "ingratitude" was a drawn out subject on Monday.

And the American public, concerned by pervasive state budget deficits and the possibly overblown but not insignificant burden of illegal immigrants using public facilities, might react even less favorably towards Mexico in the future. The less positively disposed conservative members of the Congress, already consumed by perhaps exaggerated assessment of the national security implications of our "porous" borders, will surely harden their posture against immigration reform. Even a fundamentally sympathetic President Bush has been handed a much tougher "sale" by President Fox and his messenger, Secretary Creel, should Mr. Bush wish to resuscitate the regularization of Mexican aliens in the U.S.

And in a crowning irony, millions of Mexican citizens residing in the U.S. which Fox and the PAN (National Action Party) have been, for years, romancing furiously to assure their continued collective sending of $9 billion dollars (2002) back to the homeland, may now experience a less hospitable environment here. A strong goal of these self-exiled Mexicans has been to gain the right to vote in Mexican elections by a change in Mexican law; if they succeed, their party preferences could be affected by this Fox action. And the major UN-related dissing by the Fox administration of their chosen "El Norte" home may cause their comfort in the U.S. to be compromised, especially if they are here illegally.

The next few days, as the Security Council vote nears, will tell whether the lovers can reconcile. Mr. Fox might backpedal if there is excessive negative reaction to his decision, at home or among his co-nationals in the U.S. And Mr. Bush did call him personally over the weekend?..we don?t know what was discussed or what promises might have been made?..perhaps Fox said, "No te preocupes, Jorge, we can always abstain" and possibly Mr. Bush said, "You don?t get it, Vicente; I need nueve votos!"

About Fernando Oaxaca:
Fernando Oaxaca, a long-time political and community activist in Los Angeles, can be reached at

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