Archives, 2003

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July 29, 2003 [LINK]

Mexican legislative elections

President Fox's National Action Party (PAN) lost about 50 seats in Mexican legislative elections held on July 3. Opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) gained about 17 seats, while the leftistDemocratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) gained about 40 seats. Fox rejected calls for a new cabinet to be formed, but it is difficult to see how he will be able to govern for the second half of his term without making major concessions on policy. One effect of the big gain for the PRD is to raise hopes for the presidential aspirations of its leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, mayor of Mexico City. The party's lackluster former leader, Cuautemoc Cardenas, seems to be falling by the wayside.

NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives.

Posted: July 8, 2003

The presidents of four of the five members of the Andean Group -- Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, joined by Brazil as a special invitee -- met in Rio Negro, Colombia last weekend. President Toledo of Peru canceled his trip because of the political crisis at home. There was heavy security presence to deter terrorist acts by guerrillas who are active in this part of the country. They discussed how to increase trade flow with each other, as the region continues to struggle with the economic crisis.

June 26, 2003 [LINK]

Gutierrez under fire in Ecuador

Former president Rodrigo Borja called on president Gutierrez to resign, and Gutierrez (who led a coup in January 2000) ironically accused Borja of being a coup plotter. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) demanded that president Lucio Gutierrez dismiss Economy Minister Mauricio Pozo (among others) and implement a new economic policy. Specifically, they want the recent hikes in public utility rates and gasoline prices to be rescinded, even though the government can ill afford to maintain the enormous subsidies. Since his inauguration in January, Gutierrez has pursued a more capital friendly course than many people expected, and many of the Indian leaders who supported his coup attempt in 2000 and his election last year now feel betrayed. [UPDATED]

NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives.

Posted: June 26, 2003

Last Saturday, the Washington Post had a lengthy analysis of the political tumult that has been sweeping the Andean region in recent months, as depicted on the above map. Will Washington finally wake up to the security threat that is brewing in our own hemisphere? As you will see in the following news items, in each of the countries, leftists, workers, and Indian groups are demanding radical shift in economic policy, raising the possibility that this may be an orchestrated campaign. Narcotics traffickers may be playing a behind-the-scenes role in the protests.

Posted: June 17, 2003

Foreign ministers of the Organization of American States met in Santiago, Chile, last week, passing a vague resolution in support of strengthening democracy in the region. Colin Powell had asked for a strong resolution explicitly calling on Cuba to take steps toward democratization, but widespread anti-U.S. sentiment blocked his initiative. Nevertheless, OAS observers will travel to Cuba and Haiti in the near future. The OAS summit also issued a veiled warning to Venezuela.

Posted: May 21, 2003

A resolution condemning Cuba for its harsh treatment of political dissidents failed to garner a majority of votes in the Organization of American States. The resolution was sponsored by Canada, Chile, and Uruguay, but the was opposed by anti-American governments such as Argentina and Brazil. Cuba has been excluded from the OAS since 1962.

Posted: April 22, 2003

Foreign ministers from 19 Latin American nations met with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, calling for a quick end to the war in Iraq. Peru's Foreign Minister Allan Wagner led the "Rio Group." Putin hailed growing coopeation between Russia and Latin America.

March 30, 2003 [LINK]

Our trip to Mexico

Jacqueline and I went on a very pleasant and informative trip to Mexico, for eleven days in late February and early March. Though we did not encounter any hostility, it is clear that U.S.-Mexican relations seem to be in rather bad shape right now. Mexico has resisted pleas by Spain and U.S. to vote in favor of enforcing U.N. resolutions. The Mexican press is full of rumors that President Bush is bluntly threatening to invoke reprisals against Mexico if cooperation is not forthcoming. Anti-war protests have been very visible, and a group of Mexicans just flew to Baghdad to become "human shields" against a U.S. attack. The image of the U.S. has sunk to the lowest level in many years, and the degree of distrust and scorn toward North Americans was quite shocking, even to me. I would like to think that much of this is simply a reflection of a society that is not accostumed to free political expression and is being manipulated by a jingoistic press, but I fear the sentiment is mostly real.

President Fox is hamstrung on the domestic front, as his National Action Party (PAN) is divided and tainted by scandal. On Feb. 25 top party official, Edgardo Herndandez, was charged with money laundering and arrested at his hotel. (The event was covered live by TV helicopter, which we saw hovering only a couple blocks away from our hotel.) Outspoken First Lady Marta Sahagun has been the target of sharp criticism for her active involvement in politics and (alleged) use of state resources for partisan activities.

During our trip there was a bloody street battle in Chiapas, between partisans of the PRI, the PRD, and peasant militias connected to the Zapatista rebel movement. At least three people died and dozens were injured. While in nearby Oaxaca, Jacqueline and I witnessed protests by the "People's Revolutionary Front," a communist organization that proudly displays the figure of Joseph Stalin. It was bizarre to see all those menacing figures just across the zocalo (plaza) from affluent Western tourists dining at outdoor cafes.

There will be "pre-elections" on Sunday (March 9), and the country is currently flooded with campaign propaganda, in print and on television. The once-dominant Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) has apparently rejuvenated itself by forming an alliance with the Green Party. The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution is surprisingly professional and effective ads, and is poised to become the second biggest party. Midterm congressional elections will be held this summer.

Mexican antiwar

UPDATE: When Jacqueline and I were in Mexico from late March to early April, there was a lot of media attention paid to a group of Mexicans, including nuns and lay members of the Catholic Church, who flew to Baghdad to become "human shields" in hopes of thwarting U.S. war objectives. According to a subsequent article in El Universal, however, the "human shields" from Mexico left Iraq as soon as the war began. It's a good thing, since an errant bomb might have caused U.S.-Mexican relations to become even worse.

NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives.

March 21, 2003 [LINK]

Language misunderstanding

The Mexican daily newspaper El Universal mistakenly translated a key portion of a briefing by U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Monday. This text is from their Web site:

El portavoz anotó sin embargo que "estamos decepcionados de que (México y Canadá) no compartan nuestro sentido de urgencia de que la comunidad mundial necesita contrarrestar rápida y decisivamente la amenaza que representa Irak", dijo Richard Boucher, portavoz del Departamento de Estado, en referencia a Canadá y México.

Here is what Boucher actually said (from the U.S. State Dept. daily briefings),

As far as Mexico goes, the same thing. We are disappointed they don't share our urgent sense that the world community needs to quickly and decisively counter the threat that Iraq represents. At the same time, we value our relationship with Mexico and will continue to cooperate closely with the Mexican Government on a full range of bilateral issues, including implementation of our 22-point border action plan.

The key word is decepcionados, which can mean "disappointed" in some situations, but it was universally construed by Mexicans as "deceived" two weeks ago when a huge uproar erupted over a statement made by President Bush in an interview. Bush had allegedly said that he would be "deceived" if Mexico didn't support the U.S. position in the U.N. Security Council. Jacqueline and I witnessed all this harsh criticism of Bush in print and on TV while in Mexico, and wondered what in the world Bush had really said to deserve such scorn. Putting two plus two together, I finally figured out that all Bush had said was that he would be "disappointed" if Mexico didn't support us. That is a pretty innocuous statement by our standards, but it was reported in Mexican press as though it were a grave insult, and even an outright threat. Given the current distrustful political climate, most Mexicans seem predisposed to interpret words spoken by Americans in a negative way. Wanting desperately to rectify the needless misunderstanding, I took it upon myself to notify the editors of El Universal via their Web site feedback form, but I would be surprised if they acknowledge the mistake. It's tiny misunderstandings like this that often escalate into hostility and even war. One lesson: Don't be so hasty to blame the Bush administration every time diplomacy fails.

NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives.