The Dallas Morning News
February 5, 2002

Fox meets Cuban dissidents

Mexico still supports Castro regime through trade, noninterference

                  By TRACEY EATON / The Dallas Morning News

                  HAVANA Vicente Fox on Monday became the first Mexican president to meet with
                  members of Cuba's internal political opposition while on an official visit.

                  "This is very important to us," said Elizardo Sanchez, one of the dissidents who met
                  the president. "The Cuban government treats us as nonhumans. Having Fox come
                  see us shows that we're human."

                  Cuban officials had no immediate reaction to the meeting, which took place at the
                  Mexican Embassy.

                  Even so, some analysts say, Mr. Fox's trip to Cuba was much more positive than
                  negative for the communist regime.

                  Leaders of the two nations talked about ways to boost commerce, something that
                  cash-strapped Cuba is keenly interested in doing.

                  Mexico also promised to support Cuba in other ways, too. It won't meddle in Cuba's
                  affairs and will almost certainly abstain when the U.N. Human Rights Commission
                  votes on whether to condemn Cuba's human rights record in March, Mexican Foreign
                  Minister Jorge Castañeda said.

                  Some critics of the socialist regime have wanted Mexico to take a more activist role
                  in trying to bring democratic change to the island.

                  Mr. Sanchez, who heads an opposition group in Havana, said that Mr. Fox told him
                  he hoped that Cubans would be able to solve the country's problems on their own.

                  Cuban officials have said they resent outside interference, especially from the
                  United States, which imposed a ban on trade with Cuba four decades ago.

                  On his return to Mexico, Mr. Fox issued a statement that the trip had been "very
                  satisfying." Without directly criticizing the Castro government, Mr. Fox said Cuba
                  should move toward international standards on human rights and democracy.

                  Mr. Fox said that he and Mr. Castro had discussed both nations' relationships with
                  the United States and the effects of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

                  "I stressed to him [Mr. Castro] that in my numerous encounters with President
                  Bush, I have found a U.S. leader that is a friend to Mexico, ready to listen, and
                  especially receptive," Mr. Fox said.

                  Staff writer Laurence Iliff in Mexico City contributed to this report.