The Washington Post
Monday, February 4, 2002

Fox Says Mexico Seeks Better Cuba Relations

By Anita Snow
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA Mexico will not support an upcoming U.N. vote on whether to condemn Cuba for its human rights record, officials with the administration of President
Vicente Fox said during a visit to the island.

The Mexican president and members of his government traveled to Cuba to regain the confidence of Fidel Castro's administration and to jump-start trade between
the two nations. The visit ends Monday.

Cuba resents being named in the annual U.N. Human Rights Commission vote in Geneva and regularly accuses countries that join the vote of being manipulated by
the United States.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque last year accused Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda of trying to get Mexico delegates to join the U.N.
condemnation.

But after the two met Sunday, Castaneda said it was likely Mexico would abstain during the April vote, as it did last year.

"The government of President Fox will not sponsor, nor co-sponsor, nor present any proposed resolution on the theme of Cuba or vote on the projects that others
present," Castaneda said.

That announcement restored some of Cuba's confidence in its relationship with Mexico.

"President Fox's visit is a message of independent will," Perez Roque said Sunday. "Not the entire world dares to come and resist the pressures of the United States."

With cries of "Viva Fidel!" and "Viva Fox!" shouted from balconies above, Castro escorted Fox along Old Havana's cobblestone streets.

Castro said the visit was going "well, very well" as he accompanied Fox and his wife, Martha Sahagun, past centuries-old buildings.

Earlier, Fox and Castro met privately and shared lunch at the Palace of the Revolution. Fox said relations between the two countries "are warming up" and "growing
deeper."

"A century of diplomatic relations symbolized the strong ties of fraternity that unite the people of Cuba and Mexico," Fox said during a speech in Old Havana
honoring the city historian with Mexico's highest honor for a foreigner the Aztec Eagle.

"The relationship between the two governments tight, solid has overcome the most difficult historic trials, thanks to the heartfelt friendship professed by our
societies."

The special attention Castro paid Fox made it appear unlikely the Mexican president would have time to meet with internal opposition groups as both his own
National Action Party and Washington had hoped.

The groups asked Fox to press Castro privately to release political prisoners, which could allow the Mexican president to show human rights concerns without
irritating Cuban officials in the same way a meeting with dissidents would.

Fox was accompanied by Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Slim, named by Forbes magazine last year the wealthiest man in Latin America.

Cuba long has counted on its friendship with Mexico, the only Latin American country that ignored U.S. pressure to break diplomatic ties after Castro's 1959
revolution.

Today, Mexico ranks 10th among Cuba's foreign partners in combined trade and sixth in foreign investment.

The last time a Mexican president visited Cuba was in 1999, when Ernesto Zedillo publicly aired his concerns about Cuba's human rights record at a regional summit
meeting.

                                                   © 2002 The Associated Press