Friday, March 01, 2002

Fox and Fidel in Havana | February 14, 2002

"VIVA FIDEL!" "VIVA FOX!" shouted residents of Old Havana as Cuba's dictator-for-life Fidel Castro escorted his distinguished visitor - Mexican President Vicente Fox - through the streets of Old Havana.

Fox's 24-hour visit to Cuba, February 3 and 4, was seen as a great success by both governments involved. The Cuban government certainly interpreted it as a propaganda coup. "Not the entire world dares to come and resist the pressures of the United States," crowed Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque. Fox and Fidel seemed to hit it off quite well in fact.

Vicente Fox, recall, brought down Mexico's authoritarian PRI government after its 71-year rule and is a symbol of hope to millions in Mexico and in other nations. And here he was hamming it up with the Chief Jailer of the Caribbean Gulag. As a matter of fact, Fox is already on better terms with Castro than predecessor Ernesto Zedillo - Mexico's last PRI president - who actually had the temerity to criticize Castro.

What's going on here?

The Mexican government has had a relationship with Fidel Castro since before he was Cuba's leader (Castro spent time in Mexico as an exile) and Mexico is the only nation in the hemisphere which has had constant, unbroken relations with the Castro Regime since the Revolution in 1959. For Mexico, the Cuba link is more than an economic opportunity (although it is that; Mexico is the sixth-largest foreign investor on the island). The public drama of the Mexico-Cuba alliance is an ongoing political statement – a way to show the world that Mexico is independent of the gringos.

Fidel is still quite popular among some sectors in Mexico, especially among many politicians, activists and educators. (I overheard one of my Mexican teaching colleagues begging another to loan him the video of a Castro speech.)

Do not suppose that Vicente Fox is exempt from this sort of thinking either. Although the American media call Fox "right-wing" and "conservative," Fox consistently portrays himself as "center-left," more or less along the lines of a European socialist. So for Fox, friendship with Castro is essential to shore up his international center-left credentials. Not only that, but Fox has been a fan of Castro's health and education programs since before he became president of Mexico

What a contrast though, when Fox visits his northern neighbor! In the United States, the Mexican president publicly attempts to influence U.S. immigration policy. Without qualms, he calls for the legalization of illegal aliens, demands they receive government benefits, and collaborates with ethnic pressure activists who support the goals of the Mexican government. An amazing contrast!

Maybe Bush should take a leaf from Castro on this matter – and tell Fox to mind his own business. It worked in Cuba, after all.

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