New York, New York
The HBO History Makers Series is designed to focus attention on contributions made by individuals at critical junctures in U.S. foreign policy or at noteworthy moments in recent history.
BERNARD ARONSON: I’d like to welcome you to the first of the new series, HBO History Makers Series. And I think we couldn’t have found anybody more interesting to begin this series with than Jorge CastaÃ±eda, who has made history in the past, and hopes to make history in the future, I think, in Mexico.
Most of you—I suspect all of you—know his background. He served as secretary of foreign affairs of Mexico from January 2000 to January 2003. And during that time, he witnessed the first time a U.S. president, a new president, made his first foreign trip to Mexico instead of Canada or Europe. He took part in what appeared to be historic and sweeping negotiations to change the fundamental relationship between the United States and Mexico on the border, and we’ll talk more about that. He presided over his country’s membership on the [United Nations] Security Council during the debate about Iraq, and tried to serve as a bridge between old friends and new friends, and found that a complicated endeavor.
As some of you know, Jorge is the son of a career diplomat who also served—Jorge’s father served as secretary of foreign affairs as well. And that took Jorge not only to Mexico City as a young man, but to Egypt, to Geneva, and New York.
And I want to start really with a personal question that’s also a political question, because as many of you know, Jorge started out life as an academic. Most of his professional life he’s been an intellectual, an academic, and he started out as a man of the left. I think if someone had predicted to Jorge 20 years ago that he would serve as secretary of foreign affairs of Mexico, he would have thought was possible, but if they had said it would have been in a government run by the PAN [Partido AcciÃ³n Nacional or National Action Party], he would have said “Never.” And yet he made that migration.
And I wanted to ask him, what does he know today about the exercise of power that he didn’t know 20 years ago? And what did you learn about the United States, being in government—[laughter]—what did you learn about the United States, having been in government and dealing with the highest officials of this country that you didn’t know before you took that position?
JORGE CASTANEDA: Well, it’s two very different questions, Bernie.
But first of all, thanks for inviting us here. And thank you all for giving me the opportunity. I see a lot of old friends, a lot of familiar faces. It’s a pleasure to be back here with so many friends.
What I learned about power—I guess it was kind of a brief encounter with it. And so, although I have followed how power works in Mexico, both personally and academically for a long time, I guess there are always surprises. Clearly, one of the surprises in today’s Mexico is that what was considered in Latin America and everywhere perhaps one of the most all-powerful top presidencies anywhere, anytime, under democratic rule, is actually much weaker than it looks. There are much fewer things you can get done from the presidency today in Mexico than was the case before.
This is less true in foreign affairs than in other areas, which is why, perhaps, we were able to get more things done and bring about more changes in traditional Mexican ways of doing things in the foreign ministry than elsewhere. But nonetheless, you have a great impression of impotence, of weakness, of difficulty of getting things done from a government that is not weak because the president’s weak, not weak because the mandate’s weak, but weak because the institutions are weak. And this is certainly something I learned.
I also learned that our friends from the press are tough cookies—[soft laughter]—and particularly that in Mexico today it’s very difficult to establish the sort of relationship with the press which is neither what it was before, but not what one would hope it would be one day, as the Mexican media also modernizes and becomes more democratic with time. That’s certainly another issue that I learned a lot about.
The United States—I think that was probably the most complicated thing to learn about and at the same time what I thought I knew most about, which probably was wrong in the first place. But I think I got the impression that you could get along with people who you can build common ground with, particularly if—and this is one of the things I tried to leave as a precedent in foreign—Mexican foreign policy; I’m not sure how successful I was—particularly, one, if you speak clearly. And if you speak clearly, I think you can get a lot of things done.
I remember very well—and this was one of the, I think, the high points of what I tried to do when, in late—not late—September, October 2002, and the Security Council had begun negotiating Resolution 1441, the first resolution on Iraq. I told [United States Secretary of State Colin] Powell very clearly from the very beginning, you know, if we continue along the road that seems to be one we’re following—that is, that you will accept a second stage and that you will not try right now to get a mandate for intervention—you can count on us at the end. I will have to do all sorts of things to get there, and you’re going to have to bear with me until I get there. But if you trust me and I trust you that this is what you’re doing, and you trust me that I will do what I’m saying, we’ll get there. And it worked out, because firstly, we had a solid working relationship; but secondly, I think, because it was possible not to establish a question of national sovereignty or live-or-die, life-or-death issues on each disagreement or agreement with the United States.
And this is perhaps the most complicated thing to learn about Mexican policy towards the United States, and that if you do this with the United States you can get along, which doesn’t mean that you always get what you want with the United States. It’s very difficult.
ARONSON: Well, let’s talk about that. You and your government, President [Vicente] Fox’s government, made as one of the centerpieces of the bilateral relationship comprehensive immigration reform. And you were quoted famously as saying you wanted the whole enchilada at various times. Talk a little bit about those discussions and how close do you think you actually came to—pre-September 11th—striking a deal with the administration that they would have tried to move through the Congress. And then comment on what you think about the president’s proposals that were just unveiled about a month ago.
CASTANEDA: It’s a very difficult call for me because things happened so quickly just after President Fox’s visit to Washington on September 5, 6, and 7—with September 11th—that it’s very difficult to know exactly what would have happened, because no time went by.
My impression, and I know the president’s impression, and I think—I don’t want to speak for him, obviously it’s not for me to do so—Colin Powell’s impression was that after that visit we were pretty much in business. In other words, we were close to something that perhaps was not going to be exactly what we wanted—that was logical enough—but that there was going to be something that looked pretty much like an agreement on these issues which would be very beneficial both to the United States and to Mexico. Was that true or not? It’s hard to say. Not because I in any way doubt my interpretation or Powell’s view of the matter, but simply because a lot of other factors intervened even before September 11th—the Justice Department’s point of view, which was not necessarily the same one, and others.
We always had the impression that Mexico’s No. 1 friend in Washington and the person who was most pushing for some kind of immigration agreement was President Bush. There’s no question in my mind ever that that was the case. And so to the extent that he seemed to be on board, there was no reason to doubt it.
Where were we? I think we were pretty clear on the need for some kind of regularization, legalization of Mexicans without papers in the United States. We were pretty clear on the need to expand existing guest worker programs and improve them; pretty clear on the need to increase the number of permanent visas, whatever you wanted to call them, and to remove Mexico from the ceilings of overall U.S. immigration policy because of the NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], because of contiguity, et cetera; and that we were pretty close also to reaching some sort of agreement on what we called shared responsibility—that is, that this was an issue that both governments and both countries really had to take up, that this was not something that Mexico could wash its hands of.
Where do things stand today? I think that President Bush’s proposal is really an excellent point of departure, if not for negotiation, certainly for moving forward towards the type of overall change in U.S. immigration policy and perhaps agreement with Mexico that we were fighting for at the time, because it does address the question of people who are already here without papers, it does address the issue of expanding the guest worker programs.
And this is something very complicated, because we knew from the very beginning—this is why we brought up the “whole enchilada” issue—that there were groups in the United States who were opposed for reasons of principle to any kind of guest worker program, expanded or not expanded. And we understood those reasons very well, but we didn’t share them because the fact is that somewhere like 350,000 Mexicans come to the United States every year, of which about 250,000 come without papers. And it was very important for us and it is very important for Mexico to ensure that those people who come here come here in the most legal, secure, humane, and dignified way. And though we understand very well why there would be people in the United States who, for good or bad reasons, would prefer for that not to happen, the fact is, first of all, it does happen, and secondly, for the moment it is in Mexico’s interest for this to happen. This is a fact of life.
So, you know, the issues are being addressed by President Bush’s proposal. They’re not being addressed exactly the way we would have wanted or we want them to be addressed, but on the other hand, it’s not clear what the answers to some of the questions are. And I’m still hopeful that the answers are the right ones, quote-unquote; that is, answers that are encouraging, answers that go in the right direction. And I tend to believe that they are.
ARSONSON: You participated in several bilateral meetings between the two presidents. This is an on-the-record meeting; I should have mentioned that before. But you probably have heard that a former Cabinet member recently published a book, or he contributed to a book, where he tried to paint the president as disengaged from his own government. What is your sense of how much the president was on his game in the meetings you saw? Did he—had he done his brief? Did he know the issues? Did he defer to others? I will probably get you in trouble both in Mexico and the United States, but -
CASTANEDA: Whatever I say.
ARONSON: Whatever you say. [Laughter.] But give us a flavor of those meetings.
CASTANEDA: I found President Bush to be, most of the time, very—to have done his homework very well. He was clearly in command of the detail and the issues, partly because, I mean, he knew what the issues clearly were and there was no surprises. And he understood them even before he was president because many of them had to do with matters that he had addressed as governor of Texas. For example, the water issue. Quite honestly, he gave us a lot of grief with his command of the detail of the water issue. I would have much preferred that he didn’t know—[laughter]—as much about it as he did. It was a real pain, frankly, to have to deal with the water issue with someone who had been governor of Texas. On immigration, the same thing.
On other issues, whether it was Venezuela, which we talked a lot about; whether it was drug certification, the drug certification process, which we talked a lot about; he generally seemed to be very much in command of the issues, of the detail of the issues. He would go from one to another rather quickly, sometimes more quickly than we would have wanted, but that’s the way these things often happen; you can’t script everything totally.
And he mainly had an enormous talent, or still has I suppose, for making President Fox feel very at ease, feel very comfortable, feel like he was with a friend, with someone he got along well with, who he understood well, who was a friend. There was once that this was not the case, and it was so public that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t say so now, which was the Los Cabos [Mexico] meeting [in October, 2002] at the APEC [Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation] summit, where clearly President Bush, either deliberately or because that’s how he felt, really made a point of how important it was for him that Mexico support the U.S. position on Iraq, and all of these things I’m saying were not necessarily true of that meeting.
ARONSON: Just so you know the ground rules, we’re going to talk for about five or 10 more minutes, then we’re going to open it up for questions. This is not going to be a bilateral meeting.
You wrote an interesting article a few months ago in the international edition of Newsweek where you suggested that President Fox and his government try to fundamentally change the agenda in Mexico for the next three years. And basically you said that—or you suggested that President Fox had to find a way to take the brakes off change, is how you put it. And your suggestion was that he no longer focus on the internal, substantive reform agenda of energy, taxes—some of the issues he has been struggling with and hasn’t had much success with the congress—and focus instead on fundamental reform of what you called Mexico’s dysfunctional political system. And you talked about changing the election of members of congress who cannot stand for reelection, and therefore it makes them unaccountable and brand new in each cycle. You talked about creating a referendum system where you might even have a referendum on such taboo subjects as foreign investment in oil.
How likely do you think president—and you talked about President Fox possibly doing this by bringing in opposition figures into his government. I thought it was a very interesting idea. How likely do you think that President Fox will embrace such an agenda, and what would happen, do you think, if he did? How successful could he be?
CASTANEDA: Unfortunately, I don’t think he can be less successful than he’s been with the other agenda. So in the worst of cases, he wouldn’t make a lot of headway, which wouldn’t be bad because there is a big difference between trying, I think, to convince the country and educate the country to the effect that there are institutional problems. This is not just an issue, for example, as many people in Mexico believe, that well, the problem is that congressmen and senators just don’t get along. And it’s sort of the—what was the guy in Los Angeles who was beat up a few years ago, that the police beat up, what was his name?
ARONSON: Rodney King.
CASTANEDA: Rodney KingÂ’s view of life, you know, why don’t we just get along? Actually, things are somewhat more complicated. And the fact is Mexico needs different institutions. And Fox could certainly, in the worst of cases, explain to people that that’s what the country needs, and in the best of cases, get some changes done.
I was with former Brazilian president [Fernando Henrique] Cardoso today at NYU [New York University] when we had a discussion on many of these issues, and the one point he really got very much involved in Mexican politics was about the reelection of senators and congressmen. I mean, it’s impossible to run a democracy without some kind of accountability, and so far, at least, the only kind of accountability that people has found is reelection, at least every now and then, of congressmen and senators and legislators. It’s very difficult to have any kind of accountability without that, and we don’t in Mexico. Mexico does not allow the reelection of congressmen or senators so, frankly, they don’t care what they do. And this is a fundamental reform.
Referendum is a fundamental reform also because constitutional issues and international issues are too important, really, to be left only to the Congress. I know that former president [Carlos] Salinas is speaking tonight and tomorrow here on NAFTA—not here at the Council, but here in New York—on 10 years of NAFTA. And this is an ongoing discussion with him that many people have had: Would NAFTA had been approved if it had been submitted to a referendum? Well, some people, like [former president] Felipe Gonzalez of Spain, think it wouldn’t have been. Maybe it would have been. But what is certain is that if it had been submitted and had been approved that way, it would enjoy much more support today in Mexico than it does, when it is now being blamed just about for everything—when it rains, when it doesn’t rain, when it’s too hot, it’s too cold, whatever.
ARONSON: The same in the United States. We’re convergent.
CASTANEDA: Finally! [Laughter.] Little by little, Bernie! So I think all of these reforms really are fundamental. I think Fox could get much more mileage out of them than he will get from once again sending up tax reforms, sending up energy reforms, sending up labor reform and not getting any of that. I don’t think he will get any of that. But I think he’d get a lot more mileage out of telling—explaining to the country what it needs in terms of institutional reforms, and then seeing what happens. In the best of cases with these reforms, he can get the other ones approved. In the worst of cases, he won’t get them, either. He will be right back where he started anyway, but he will have explained to the country what the agenda for the future is.
ARONSON: In that same article, you blamed, if I quote you right, this dysfunctional political system for Mexico’s stagnation. And you also gave a speech in Washington a number of months ago where you talked about Mexico’s public school system and the fact that an elementary school child in Mexico has about four-and-a-half hours of learning a day compared to six-and-a-half, seven-and-a-half in Argentina and eight here, and you focused on that as part of Mexico’s underdevelopment.
To what extent, you know, during your political and intellectual evolution have you changed your view about the source of Latin America’s underdevelopment in general, and see the balance is more homegrown structural issues in the system that has been left behind and less the imperialist, the industrialist, the North—you know, that whole constellation of issues that 30 years ago you probably would have focused on in talking about underdevelopment? Have you begun to think that Latin America spends too much time worrying about what the United States is going to do or not do and not enough on these kind of homegrown issues like political reform?
CASTANEDA: Bernie, I think that there was always a difference, I think, between the way people like myself—a small group of people, granted, including myself, on the left in Mexico and in Latin America in general thought about these matters and the broad mainstream of the left in Latin America. The left in Latin America has been, since time immemorial, anti-imperialist, quote, unquote, which means basically the source of all problems is the United States and the solution to everything lies with a separation or severance of any tie with the United States.
While being very clearly a person of the left for many years—and I’m not necessarily certain I would even deny that today—I never had that point of view. And I never did, not because I had more or less sympathy for the United States, which depends on who is in office in the White House and what policies are established more than anything else, but rather because I always felt that most of the problems of the region were homegrown, were inbred, were not problems that came from abroad. On some occasions, the problems were aggravated or made worse because of actions taken by the United States, clearly, and on other occasions, by the way, the United States was actually part of the solution and not part of the problem. And there was always a difference between a certain part of the Latin American left and the Mexican left and these other sectors.
I always, I guess, belonged to a very minority part of the Latin American left in that sense. I remember very clearly, for example, when the Sandinistas had just taken power in July of 1979 in Nicaragua and Mexico was very close to them, and my father had just been appointed foreign minister. Sandinista leader [Father] Miguel Desoto asked Lopez Portillo [president of Mexico, 1976-1982] to send someone down to give him a hand with trying to develop some sort of a foreign policy of their own. And Lopez Portillo asked my father and my father sent me and I went to live in Nicaragua for six or seven months in Managua, which is not a place you want to live in, no. [Laughter.] But anyway, I was young and what the hell. [Laughter.]
Anyway, what was very clear to me, at the time, and this was now 25 years ago, was that if the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua had any chance of being a successful experiment, one, it had to get along with the United States, with the Carter administration at the time; two, it had to stay away from the Cubans, other than just have a normal, friendly relationship with Cuba, period, but not more than that; and three, it had to not buy in to the anti-imperialist, anti-America agenda of the Third World at the time, which is as you recall maybe, Bernie, was a time when the non-aligned summit conference was taking place in Havana in September of 1979 and this was perhaps the highest point of Cuban involvement in Latin America and in the world.
Unfortunately, I was totally unsuccessful in convincing the Sandinistas of any of this stuff and the Mexican government was not able to put sufficient wherewithal in terms of using that leverage of the Sandinistas to understand these points of view and it was exactly the opposite of what I wanted that occurred. But it was very clear to me—and I remember the memos I wrote for them, what I suggested to them, the discussions I had with them, the fights I had with them, the books I wrote about them at the time even. And at the end of the day what occurred, which was that they went exactly the opposite route and paid a very high price for it.
ARONSON: They did. We all did. Let’s open this up for questions from the floor. Please identify yourself, your name and your affiliation and take the mike please.
QUESTIONER: Good evening. My name is Wendy Maldonado and I’m a term member here at the Council. I’m also half Mexican and half American. I have a very deep love for Mexico. Mr. CastaÃ±eda, I have two questions for you. The first question has to do with the new phenomena of the Latin majority-minority population; weÂ’re at 38 million and counting now, two-thirds of that population is Mexican or Mexican-American, of Mexican descent. And I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how Mexico could possibly leverage that population that’s actually here in the United States as a way to improve the relationship between the two countries and to also advance Mexico’s agenda in the foreign policy realm. I mean, I feel like we just never talk about Mexico unless we have to here.
And my second question has to do with whether you would confirm or deny whether you’re going to be making a bid for the presidency. [Laughter.]
CASTANEDA: Confirm or deny. Neither. [Laughter.] How’s that? And I think you can work from there as to what the answer to your question is. When people say neither—anyway. [Laughs.]
On the first point—and I’ll come to your second point in a second. On the first point, I think it’s very dangerous for Mexico—or any country, but certainly for Mexico—to have an instrumentalist vision of a diaspora, because it can be counterproductive, humiliating, cynical and, at the end of the day, useless. So I think that is not the way we should go for Mexico, and I don’t think it’s a vision I had when I was in the foreign ministry, or even before or that I have today.
I do think that we should have—Mexico should have as close ties as possible with the Mexican and Mexican-American community in the United States. And they tend to be somewhat different communities even though the line between the two is always a fuzzy one; it’s not that clear-cut.
President [Ernesto] Zedillo, I think, made the very wise decision six or seven years ago to allow Mexicans to have a double nationality. This was perhaps one of the most far-reaching and important decisions he made, and he got the Congress to approve it because—I’m not sure they knew exactly what they were doing, but—[laughs]—the fact is they approved it.
And I think it was a very positive, very important decision because it allows Mexicans in the United States, once they settle their situation here, which can be settled in one of many ways—and that’s not the issue right now—once they settle their situation in the United States, it allows them to really become much more active in U.S. politics from any point of view without losing their ties to Mexico, which is, I think, the way it should be.
And I think that allows for Mexico to have a close relationship with its community, with its nationals here, with Mexican-Americans, without an instrumentalist notion but with real participation in U.S. politics. The problem with the four to five million Mexicans in the United States without papers and the four to five million Mexicans in the United States with papers but who are not citizens is that it is very difficult for these Mexicans, these nine-or-so million Mexicans, to have any real political participation in the United States.
And citizenship, at the end of the day, allows that. And I am increasingly sensitive—I wasn’t so sure before, but I’m increasingly sensitive, having talked to a lot of people in Los Angeles and in Guanajuato just the last two or three weeks since Bush’s proposal was out, that citizenship in the United States is a very strong demand of our people in the United States. They want it.
We talked about it at our Human Rights Watch meeting the other day with [Democratic] Senator [Barbara] Boxer [of California]. That’s the way they’re reacting. It’s not something I would have imagined. President Fox has said in the last few days that he doesn’t think Mexicans in the United States want to become citizens. Obviously, he has much more information and sensitivity to this than I do. But little by little, the sense I’m getting is that they do. And since the double nationality allows that to happen without their losing their Mexican citizen, well maybe that’s the way to go.
As for the question of the presidency, it’s something I have not made up my mind about yet. I will have to make up my mind very soon, and I’m sure I’ll make an announcement one way or the other in the next couple of months.
QUESTIONER: Yes, Rita Hauser. I want to ask you a question in my capacity as chair of the International Peace Academy, which is a think tank at the U.N., and we worked very closely with—[inaudible]—during the Iraq business. You were spared a final vote because a resolution was withdrawn. But as I understood your effort and the Chileans’ to fashion a compromise, which failed, you would have cast a “no” vote. That’s what at least I was under the impression. So I’d like to verify for the record if that would have been the case.
But more than that, what was, in essence, your objection at the very end? Was it that you didn’t believe that the weapons inspections regime had gone its full length? Did you believe it was an improper war under international law? I’d just like a little elucidation on your position.
CASTANEDA: Firstly, I think it’s important to point out that I left the foreign ministry in January of 2003; consequently, a good two months before all of this took place. And so what I can answer, what I can say about the issues you’ve raised is exclusively from the point of view of an outsider, perhaps well-informed, perhaps connected to the matter, but clearly, I was not in the decision-making process and I do not have all the information available to me.
[NOTE: A brief portion of Mr. CastaÃ±eda’s response is inaudible due to audio difficulties from the source.]
Thirdly, because most of the rest of the Security Council was in that position and it would have been very difficult for Mexico to have a different stance from Chile or France or Russia or China. It would have been together, yes with Spain and Britain, but not with the other ones. So that’s a fourth reason.
And perhaps a fifth one was that the reasons why the United States did not want to come back to the Security Council after giving the inspectors a couple more months, those reasons were never very clear. The main ones I had heard, and this I had heard even before, when I was still in office, from Secretary Powell was that it was going to get very hot in Iraq by April or May, and that the anti-chemical warfare suits that the U.S. troops would have to wear would be very heavy and uncomfortable and intolerably hot after April or May. Quite honestly, that was not a very convincing argument. We never heard a good reason, even while I was in office, and I don’t think Fox and his people did, as to why two or three months more would be an unacceptable delay or postponement. So for all of these reasons, I think that’s why the president probably decided what you said.
QUESTIONER: Nice to see you, sir. It’s 10 years since the 10th anniversary of NAFTA. Perhaps more important, it’s 20 years since the tremendous turnaround in Mexican trade policy to open Mexico to much, much more vigorous integration with the world economy but also North America. Is it time to begin thinking about North America in terms of paradigms? Should we begin now thinking—can we, should we—begin thinking more—[inaudible]?
CASTANEDA: When I was—[inaudible]—we on many occasions brought the issue of what we called an—[inaudible]—concept of—[inaudible]—institutions, something simple as changing, shifting the ad hoc dispute resolution panels foreseen by NAFTA into standing or permanent panels which would not have the problem each time of finding the experts to serve on them, which has become a real issue.
So we always thought—I always thought that this was something that Mexico should try and achieve, and we brought it up many times both with the Americans and with the Canadians. The Canadians were remarkably unreceptive, and I guess the Americans weren’t too excited about it either. [Laughter.] So we didn’t exactly encounter overwhelming success when we brought this up.
But you know, I remember a long conversation I had once with someone that some of you may recall, Edgar Pisani, who was [president of France Charles] De Gaulle’s agricultural minister in the early ’60s and one of the builders of Europe along with—in the post-’58 Rome Treaty, period, particularly the [European Community’s] Common Agricultural Policy. And I asked him, you know—“Who were the most enthusiastic members of the community back in the early ’60s?“ He said very clearly it was the Benelux [Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg] countries. I said, ”Why?“ ”Because the little guys always get more from this sort of arrangement than the big guys.“ The poorer, smaller, whatever guys get more or have more to gain from this sort of arrangement than anybody else, and I always thought that the more institutions we had in North America, the better it would be for Mexico. So it wasn’t difficult for me to try and move in that direction, and I think we should move in that direction.
I think and I hope that the new administration in Canada, Paul Martin’s government in Canada, will be more receptive to these ideas than Prime Minister [Jean] Chretien was, and I hope that that will allow us to get some traction with the United States at some point soon.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Arturo Porzecanski with ABN-AMRO Bank. If I could push a bit more on reflecting on either the impotence of the Fox presidency or, if you want to turn it around, how a hypothetical CastaÃ±eda presidency would do it so much better.
CASTANEDA: I think so, anyway. [Laughter.]
QUESTIONER: Good. I would be interested in the details. But you seem to suggest—you seem to suggest that the cards that Fox got were bad ones, especially on the institutional side. But you could argue that, you know, the cards that [president of Brazil LuÃs InÃ¡cio] Lula [da Silva] got were lousy ones, and he could be quite important nowadays, too, or that leader of Colombia got were lousy ones. And the institutions of Latin America, you know, they’re all fairly weak. Why do you think Fox is—the Fox presidency is so unable to get structural reforms done?
CASTANEDA: First, I would make an initial point regarding Lula, which I think is very important. There is a huge institutional difference between Brazil and Mexico, which is the runoff system in presidential elections. Lula was elected with 65 percent of the vote, Fox was elected with 42 percent of the vote, and I think the two mandates are very different. And I think there is no question that when Lula speaks and works with Congress and does what he has to do in Brazil, the fact that he did obtain 65 percent of the vote makes a difference, and the fact that Fox is—obtained 42 percent of the vote makes a difference in Mexico. So I think there are institutional differences between the two countries that are not negligible.
The fact, though, is that it has been very difficult for the Fox government to get the so-called structural reforms through. We probably made the mistake—I mentioned this in that piece you referred to, Bernie, before—we probably made the mistake of going after the structural reforms first and perhaps either not going after institutional reforms at all or leaving them for later. And that probably may have been an unwise decision, may have been the wrong decision to make.
On the other hand, everyone advised the president, for example, that he should, one, go for a quick win on something, which was the reason beyond the Chiapas indigenous rights reform decision, and two, that if he wanted to get tax reform done, he had to do it right away. I remember long conversations with [former president of Chile] Ricardo Lagos, with Fernando Henrique Cardoso and others that he had during his time as president-elect, which was a five-month period. And he went to Latin America and spoke with all these folks, and they all said, ”Look, you want to get taxes done? Get it done quickly. Start at the very beginning.“
And Fox sent up his first tax reform in April of 2001. Didn’t get it through, but the other choice, which was to leave it for later and go for institutional reforms at the beginning, went against the grain of the advice he was getting from people who were very good friends, very experienced, and who had faced similar situations. So it wasn’t that easy a call.
Now once he is where he is today, I quite honestly think that it’s going to be very difficult, as the 2006 presidential succession race heats up, to get the opposition to raise taxes. Oppositions generally don’t raise taxes before elections. This is not the sort of thing that endears them to electorates. So I don’t see the logic of why the PRI [Partido Nacional Revolucionario or Institutional Revolutionary Party] and the PRD [Partido de RevoluciÃ³n DemocrÃ¡tica or Democratic Revolution Party] would help the president raise taxes into the succession process.
I don’t see why they would help the president change Mexican energy policy, power policy, oil policy, in general or particularly. Why should they? For the good of the country, yes, but everyone has his own definition and interpretation of what the good of the country is. And there is a certain logic to electoral processes, and I think Mexico is simply having—finding some—encountering some difficulties in really acknowledging how an electoral democracy works.
ARONSON: The gentleman back here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Steve Kass.
ARONSON: What’s your affiliation?
I’m a member of the Council. I practice law when I’m
ARONSON: Okay. It’s just part of their deal.
QUESTIONER: What institutional reforms do you think—if any, do you think the United States might be helpful in implementing in Mexico?
CASTANEDA: It’s a tough one, Steve, because U.S. support for some of these reforms might make some of them more difficult to achieve than the absence of such support! [Laughter.]
I think perhaps what might be interesting would be for the United States to adopt a somewhat different point of view regarding institutional and, mainly, legal reforms, which we’ve talked about, throughout Latin America; that it not just be a Mexico-based issue, although, obviously, Mexico is perhaps more important for the United States right now than other countries. Issues such as moving towards some kind of a semi-presidential, semi-parliamentary regime. Issues such as substituting written trials, which we have throughout Latin America, and particularly in Mexico, with oral, verbal trials, which is a reform that has begun to occur in some Latin American countries, but not at all in Mexico. A truly independent prosecutorial institution, which we don’t have in Mexico and in many countries in Latin America. Everything having to do with the rule of law. Unifying national police forces.
President Cardoso today was again referring to one of his big problems when he came into office, and remains a problem in Brazil, that there’s no federal police worth mentioning in Brazil. Well, there isn’t one in Mexico either. We have 3,000 people belonging to the federal police, and 350,000 belonging to the municipal and state polices, and the 350,000 are mostly corrupt and the 3,000 are good. So what do you do? And this is almost exactly the same situation in Brazil. Few countries have national police forces like Chile does with the CarabiÃ±eros [Chilean national police force].
Well, this is the type of reform that is fundamental for law enforcement and the rule of law in Latin America in general, and Mexico in particular.
These sorts of reforms the U.S. certainly could support, and perhaps change its priorities through institutions like the World Bank and like the IDB [International Development Bank] in terms of where the obstacles to Latin American and Mexican economic growth lie. Because at the end of the day—we haven’t talked about this, Bernie, but this is really the fundamental issue: Why, after everything that has been done has been done, do Latin American economies still not grow? What’s wrong? Why did Brazil only grow half a percent last year, and Mexico 1.2 percent? I mean, everything that was supposed to have been done practically has been done. Or is it just going to be a little bit more investment in Mexican power that’s going to make the difference between 1 percent growth and 7 percent growth? I don’t think so, and I don’t think anybody at this stage thinks so. What is missing? What has to be done? Why aren’t these economies growing? This is really the fundamental question that Latin America has to address and that Mexico has to address.
ARONSON: What’s the answer? [Laughter.]
CASTANEDA: I think certainly part of the answer is the institutional reforms. Part of the answer is rule of law, particularly in Mexico. We just do not have what we could call a sort of competitive rule of law in Mexico, and it’s impossible not only to attract foreign investment, we can’t attract Mexican investment, we can’t attract magnates’ investment; but we can’t attract poor people to create businesses and mortgage their houses and improve their homes and do anything because we have such an uncompetitive, archaic, at best, establishment of the rule of law; and at worst, a corrupt and totally dysfunctional legal system. Well, it’s impossible under those circumstances. But I think that with a few exceptions—Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica—that may be about it—this is the situation throughout Latin America.
ARONSON: And then the elites don’t pay taxes, and they argue that if they pay their taxes it will be spent corruptly, and you have a vicious cycle.
Susan? I’m sorry, I’m going to get to you next. I keep passing you over, but-
QUESTIONER: Hi. Susan Purcell, Council of the Americas. Jorge, the newspapers are full of stories about how Latin America is moving toward the left and that there are a lot of governments now that are governed by left-of-center presidents. One, do you think it’s true? And two, what difference does it make from Latin America’s point of view? Is this good for Latin America or bad for Latin America? I mean, in what ways is it good, and in what ways might it be bad?
CASTANEDA: Well, first of all, I’m sure it’s true in the sense that many -- in many cases that are often referred to, the original roots of the individuals in question are on the left. This is clearly true of Lula in Brazil; it’s, up to a point, true of someone like [President Nestor] Kirchner in Argentina; it’s perhaps a bit less true, but partly true of people like [President Lucio] Gutierrez and [President Hugo] Chavez in Ecuador and in Venezuela. Probably that’s the extent of it for the moment.
It’s less true if you look at the policies. I don’t think really that Lula in Brazil is doing anything that is terribly different from what his predecessor did, certainly not in macroeconomic policy. There doesn’t seem to be any significant difference. In social policy, there was an attempt to do things differently. I think that the recent Cabinet shuffle in Brazil—reshuffle in Brazil—may indicate that in fact they’re coming back to many of the things that Cardoso’s people were doing in education and health, et cetera; in malnutrition as opposed to hunger—they are two different things. So I’m not sure that this question of the left is as significant in terms of policy as in terms of origins.
Now in terms of origins, I think of roots. I think in the case of Lula, for example, this is an immensely positive symbolic event. I think that the fact that one of the world’s most unequal, segregated, discriminatory countries in the world like Brazil has a union leader with an elementary school education as president is symbolically something very impressive and very important. It means that the country’s democratic institutions work, it means that there is that kind of possibility, and it means that the traditional sort of discrimination and segregation of Brazilian society is at least beginning to be worn down and beaten back, and in that sense I think it’s very positive.
It’s perhaps less positive in the other cases, particularly in the case of Venezuela, where it’s obvious to many people because of the roots of President Chavez. After all, he does come from an attempted coup d’Ã©tat. Well founded or not is a different issue; that’s where he comes from. And secondly, because so many years in office do seem to point to the fact that the symbolism has been overshadowed by the attitudes of having divided a country in two and polarized it to such an extent that it seems very difficult for that polarization to be overcome. So I think it depends on each case.
I am absolutely convinced that in the case of Brazil this is an immensely positive event, regardless of where it eventually ends up. And I think it will end up well in the sense that Lula has proved to be very responsible in most of these things.
ARONSON: Okay, now you. I kept passing you over. [Chuckles.] You kept giving me a dirty look.
QUESTIONER: Herbert Levin, America-China Forum. You had outlined for us why you felt it was in the interests of the United States and Mexico to accept substantial legal immigration, temporary immigration, undocumented immigration, et cetera. Would you agree that the governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bangladesh, and Albania could make the same arguments?
CASTANEDA: They probably could, but there are a few points that they couldn’t make. For example, they couldn’t make the point that they share a 2,000-mile border with the United States. Only Mexico and Canada can make that point. They couldn’t make the point that they have a free-trade agreement with the United States, though CAFTA [Central America Free Trade Agreement] now is eventually going to be approved, but for the moment they still can’t make that point.
Thirdly, I don’t think they can make the point that there are already three to four million Mexicans in the United States without papers and that that creates a huge problem for the United States, for Mexico and for everyone else.
The numbers in the Mexican case are very different. There are undoubtedly undocumented Salvadorians, although most of them are under so-called TPS, or Temporary Protection Status. And for practical purposes, most of them now are documented; the same is true for Hondurans and Guatemalans. I’m not exactly familiar with the legal status of Albanians and people from Bangladesh. But I do know that in the case of Central America that most of them are under legal status because of the TPS programs.
So, yes, I understand the point, which is that any Mexico- exclusive policy or agreement is complicated, which is why we always insisted that it shouldn’t be a Mexico-only or Mexico-exclusive policy, it should be a Mexico-first policy. And once that worked and got through the process, then unquestionably it would have to be extended to some of the Central American countries. But we always made the point that Mexico was different. And it’s different because it is the only country, together with Canada, that has a border with the United States, and it is the only country that, until recently at least, had a free-trade agreement with the United States of this magnitude and of this importance. So I think there is a difference, yes.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Stephanie Golub, Baruch College. When you resigned in January of 2003, if I remember correctly, I’m not sure if I’m quoting you precisely, but you had said something, or it seemed that the project of the Fox administration to try to bring about—urge democratization through foreign policy, for example, through reversing the Mexican allergy to nonintervention issues by joining the Security Council, by signing onto agreements which said we approve of supporting democracy against threats to democracy internally to countries. This sort of change in Mexican foreign policy, to some extent, your idea was that it was to help bring about democratization within Mexico. So I’d like to ask you, because at that point it seemed that you felt that it would be better to work through civil society to rejoin the ranks of academia and to be part of this conversation about civil society in Mexico. So could you say a little bit more about what’s happening in civil society in Mexico apart from the institutions, the relationship between civil society in the state? Is civil society another, say, another sector which could help bring about the demand for institutional reform in Mexico and how do you see that playing out? Thank you.
CASTANEDA: Well, yes. I mean, first thing, yes, that was one of the attempts or one of the endeavors we had in the Fox administration the first couple of years and, up to a point, still today, though less so—which was to leverage international institutions, instruments, treaties, what have you, scrutiny from abroad into greater respect for human rights domestically in Mexico, strengthening of Mexican democracy to the extent that it needed it—and it did, and it does—and in general to having international efforts play on Mexican developments in ways that have to do with the situation of women in Juarez, Ciudad Juarez, or that had to do with the special cases of political prisoners or that have to do with settling accounts with the past, et cetera.
So I think, yes, that was certainly something we were working on and that I was very convinced of and continue to be convinced of. Mexico needed to change its traditional foreign policy for many reasons, but one of them was for domestic reasons. We could not encourage foreign scrutiny and Mexican commitment to international institutions and instruments without also expecting other countries to do the same thing. It was very difficult, for example—I would say impossible—to sue the United States at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over noncompliance with the Vienna Convention regarding consular notification in death penalty cases and not condemn the use of the death penalty in Cuba. It’s very difficult to do one without the other. Actually, it’s not very difficult; it’s impossible. So either we were going to defend human rights everywhere and also in Mexico, or we were going to continue with the traditional Mexican double standard. But the two things were incompatible.
Where is civil society in Mexico today? I think it is somewhat passive in regard to many of the issues that are present in Mexico today. It takes up some issues, which I’m not sure are the decisive ones, and does not seem really to be terribly mobilized on many of the more important matters facing—or challenges facing the country today.
Whether these are the human rights issues, whether they are the modernization of the Mexican media, whether they are the institutional reforms that have to be brought about in Mexico to really consolidate Mexican democracy, whether they have to do with issues regarding education, for example, or whether they have to do with legal issues, Mexican civil society, unfortunately, has sort of been displaced by the overwhelming power of the political parties, the three large political parties, who have just moved everybody out of the political arena and have taken over the agenda without it being terribly clear that these are the central issues facing the country.
It is not clear to me, for example, that the legal status of power generation in Mexico in the 21st century is the most important issue facing the country today, and yet the political parties seem to act as if that were the case. Quite honestly, I think that legal reform, institutional reform, human rights matters, the media, women’s issues, indigenous people’s issues are much more important than these other ones. And yet the political parties have decided that those are the central issues, and then, of course, they subsequently decide not to move at all on them.
So civil society, I think, in Mexico, in a sense, is waiting to be energized over different issues. I hope that will happen.
ARONSON: We have time for one more question.
And I think, under the Council’s rule, that we’re supposed to thank the guests before we ask the question. And I would just like to say I don’t know whether Jorge will decide to seek a political career in Mexico, but I think if he does, the Mexican people will be greatly benefiting from the kind of candor and thoughtfulness that we’ve heard tonight, because I think there’s a hungering in all democratic societies for authentic voices and voices that can think in new and creative ways, and not just the conventional categories of politics that seem so stagnant. And I think we’ve had a very exciting and interesting window onto that listening to Jorge Castaneda today for an hour. So I’d like you to join me in thanking our guest. [Applause.]
[Last Question Not Recorded.]
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