The Miami Herald
February 3, 2002

Mexican president, Castro to meet today

 HAVANA -- (AP) -- President Vicente Fox of Mexico, a former Coca-Cola executive, planned to talk business today with President Fidel Castro of Cuba during a one-day visit to the communist island.

 While Fox and Castro were to discuss reviving trade, it was pressure by the United States and Fox's own conservative National Action Party to meet with Cuban
 dissidents that were highlighting the trip.

 Several opposition groups have asked to meet with Fox, but trip organizers say no meeting has been planned. Fox's tight schedule appeared to make such a meeting

 U.S. officials and his own party want Fox to prove his democratic credentials by becoming the first Mexican president to meet with Cuba's internal opposition during an official visit.

 Fox's election as an opposition candidate was described as a democratic advance, ending the 71-year rule of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party.

 It would be a ``very clear form of recognition . . . because the [Cuban] government treats us as nonpersons,'' said prominent human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez,
 among those who have requested a meeting.

 But Fox also could enrage Castro and harm their talks on trade and other issues, perhaps causing long-term damage to a relationship that the Mexican president says he wants to improve.

 Several groups have also asked Fox to press Castro privately for the release of political prisoners, a move that could allow Fox to show human rights concerns without risking bilateral talks.

 A month before taking office in December 2000, Fox promised an ``intense and open'' relationship with Cuba and said he hoped to ``construct a positive road'' in helping the island toward a full democracy and open market.

 While acknowledging relations between Mexico and Cuba have been ``somewhat chilly,'' Fox said in an interview published Saturday in the Communist Party daily
 Granma that the ties were not as cold as some commentators suggest. ``I think that what we try to do now is to strengthen those ties,'' he said.

 Fox also rejected suggestions that his country act as an interlocutor between the United States and Cuba, which have had no diplomatic relations for four decades.

 ``I don't think that would be our role,'' the paper quoted him as saying.

                                    © 2002