The Miami Herald
April 13, 2001

Mexico to abstain in U.N. vote on rights in Cuba

Vows more ties with dissidents


 Furthermore, Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castañeda said in an interview with The Herald that, regardless of the vote scheduled for next week at the United Nations in Geneva, Fox would meet with Cuban dissidents if he visits the island.

 For Mexico, long viewed as Cuba's closest ally in the Western Hemisphere, any move to give greater recognition to domestic opponents of the Cuban government would represent a significant change in policy and likely lead to cooler official relations between Mexico and Cuba.

 No Mexican president has talked to dissidents while visiting Cuba, and the effort is likely to be strongly resisted by the Castro government.

 Castañeda, a former leftist academic and writer who in recent years has become increasingly critical of Cuba's human rights abuses, has been at the center of a fiery
 public controversy here over Mexico's vote at the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Until two years ago, Mexico systematically opposed any criticism of Cuba's human rights abuses.

 On Thursday, Castañeda was quoted by the daily Reforma as saying that Mexico will abstain in the vote to condemn Cuba at the United Nations next week because the U.S.-backed resolution is ``selective'' and suffers from a ``double standard.''


 He said other countries where human rights are violated are not being subjected to similar diplomatic condemnations.

 But Castañeda added that ``it is a fact that the information we have about the situation of human rights in Cuba causes concern to institutions whose voice we consider important, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other Cuban groups within and outside Cuba.''

 Except for votes in 1990 and 1999 that sided openly with Cuba, Mexico has abstained at the United Nations human rights vote on Cuba in recent years, and until the last year of former President Ernesto Zedillo's presidency used to strongly oppose any criticism of the Castro regime.

 While Mexico's abstention is likely to be taken with resignation by both the United States and Cuba -- Secretary of State Colin Powell made a recent call to Castañeda urging him to vote in support of the condemnation, Mexican diplomats say -- it is unclear whether Mexico's relations with Cuba will ever regain their earlier warmth.

 Since taking office, Fox has said that he will seek to increase Mexico's trade and cultural ties with Cuba, while at the same time adopting a more active role in support of human rights all over the world.


 In a landmark March 20 speech at the United Nations in Geneva, Castañeda announced that Mexico would no longer blindly adhere to the principle of nonintervention in other countries' affairs -- once the bedrock policy of Mexican foreign relations -- or use it as an excuse for not criticizing human rights abuses abroad. ``We are convinced that one cannot cite sovereignty to justify violation of rights,'' Castañeda said in that speech.

 ``While abstaining in the vote, the Mexican delegation in Geneva is expected to use its five-minute time slot during the debate to strongly criticize the absence of
 fundamental freedoms in Cuba, Mexican officials say.

 In his interview with The Herald, Castañeda disputed press reports from Havana that Mexico's Embassy there has so far shunned contacts with Cuban dissidents, and quoting Mexican Ambassador Ricardo Pascoe as saying he would not meet with members of the internal opposition.

 Castañeda suggested that the ambassador had been misquoted and added that ``there have been contacts between the Mexican Embassy in Havana and human rights activists in recent months, after Ambassador Pascoe's arrival there.''

 Castañeda said he expects Fox to visit the island ``at some point during his term in office,'' as every Mexican president has done in recent decades. Asked whether Fox would meet with dissidents there, Castañeda answered that when Fox visited Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia in recent months, he met with the top opposition leaders in every country. ``This is what he does in every trip, and obviously it is what he would do in Cuba when he goes there,'' Castañeda said. He added that since there is no organized political opposition in Cuba, the Mexican president would meet with dissidents such as human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez. But Fox's plans are almost sure to run into problems with the Cuban government, and could force an indefinite postponement of the trip.

 Mexican officials say Cuba earlier this year refused to allow a public meeting between Mexico's special ambassador for human rights, Mariclaire Acosta, and Sánchez in Cuba.

 The Cuban rejection prompted Mexico to cancel a visit to Mexico by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and to postpone Fox's visit to the island, originally scheduled for the first half of this year.

                                    © 2001