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Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro lay a trap for Mexico

By John Sweeney

Miami, November 14 – Mexico’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed it will recall its Ambassador from Venezuela and request that Venezuela’s Ambassador to Mexico return to Caracas immediately if “the government and people of Mexico” do not receive a formal apology from “the very highest levels” of the Venezuelan government before midnight on November 14. Since last week President Hugo Chavez has called Fox “a puppy of the empire,” and also threatened Fox personally. “Do not mess with me,” Chavez told the Mexican president on November 13 in a television broadcast that was beamed by satellite via Telesur to all of Latin America. Now the Fox government wants a personal written apology from Chavez.

Mexico’s government is about to fall into a geopolitical trap laid by Chavez, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, who is an experienced fabricator of international diplomatic incidents and the foremost expert on the United States in the Castro regime. Chavez and Castro want Fox to freeze, or better yet break off relations with Venezuela. A formal diplomatic break between Venezuela and Mexico would open a strategic trapdoor through which the Chavez/Castro axis likely would seek to destabilize Mexico politically over the coming presidential election year in that country.

This was not an ad hoc rhetorical attack by Chavez, who chose his words carefully to inflict the maximum possible insult and humiliation. From a Mexican perspective, calling President Fox “a puppy of the empire” was an extraordinarily vile and personal insult. The Mexican people are fiercely nationalist and independent, and proud of their rich cultural heritage.

Chavez created the confrontation with Fox with a blueprint very similar to what Castro and Alarcon employed in March 2004 at the Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey. The meeting at Monterrey was a Fox initiative that sought to bring together President Bush and the heads of state of Latin America and the Caribbean in what ultimately proved a futile effort to improve sagging relations between Washington and the region. Castro was invited to that event by Fox, but the Cuban leader was also asked to leave Monterrey before President Bush arrived. The request insulted and enraged Castro.

The Cuban leader returned to Havana and promptly released tape recordings of telephone conversations between Castro and Fox in which Mexico’s president had explicitly asked Castro to leave Monterrey before the arrival of Bush. The Fox government had previously denied reports that the U.S. government had pressured Fox to ask Castro to leave, and Castro’s disclosure of the taped conversation with Fox was hugely embarrassing for the Mexican president and his then-Foreign Minister Carlos Castaneda.

Now Chavez has employed a similar strategy against Fox. Chavez violated an explicit rule of international diplomacy and protocol related to the FTAA negotiating process by broadcasting edited snippets of the heated discussions between the region’s heads of state behind closed doors in Mar del Plata. Chavez broadcast on Telesur footage of Bush, Fox and Canada’s prime minister arguing strongly for the inclusion of the FTAA in the text of the final document. Chavez also broadcast footage of himself, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez arguing against any mention of the FTAA in the final declaration.

Chavez won’t apologize. Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel and Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez Araque both have said that Chavez’s description of Fox as “a puppy of the empire” is justified. In effect, Fox asked for it by siding with the United States at the November 4-5 Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, according to both Rangel and Rodriguez.

If the Fox government recalls its ambassador from Caracas and orders the Venezuelan ambassador to depart Mexico immediately, Chavez likely will ratchet up the confrontation with Fox, a lame duck president who is unpopular with many Mexicans.

There are many ways that the Chavez/Castro axis can stoke political turmoil in Mexico over the coming electoral year.

For instance, Chavez could continue provoking the Fox government systematically, including frequent (daily) attacks against Fox in his speeches and television broadcasts like he now attacks President Bush and the U.S. government. Chavez would seek to humiliate Fox and goad him into responding publicly in order to create tit-for-tat exchanges that subsequently would be televised hemispherically via Telesur (aka Telechavez), which now broadcasts 24 hours a day by satellite from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, the Iberian Peninsula, western Europe and much of eastern Europe.

The Chavez/Castro axis also could increase its financial and political engagement with radical leftist groups in Mexico through gateways like the Bolivarian Congress of Peoples. Mexico has millions of indigenous citizens living in abject poverty, excluded from mainstream Mexican society. Mexico also has armed militant groups in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca and other southern states. Mexico’s government is also currently engaged in a nearly four-year-old power struggle between rival drug cartels for control of the North American drug trafficking industry. Over 1,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars since the start of 2005, and the Fox government has been unable to contain the violence. Mexico is simmering with economic exclusion, social resentment, armed militants and organized criminal enterprises with a direct economic stake in stoking instability. Some exogenous clandestine interventionism, like Bolivia and Ecuador have experienced increasingly since 2000, could stir things up in Mexico.

A Mexico in a state of incremental instability has direct geopolitical implications for the national security of the United States. This is the real objective of Chavez’s extraordinarily personal attack against Fox. If Mexico destabilizes politically, the U.S. government’s focus in Latin America would shift decisively to Mexico, where an unstable political environment or unfriendly government would affect sensitive bilateral economic, migration and security issues that concern Washington very much.

Chavez didn’t come up with this strategy by himself. Interestingly, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister appears to be out of the loop. Rodriguez spent four days negotiating with his Mexican counterpart to smooth things out, and gave assurances on November 13 that good relations between Venezuela and Mexico are very important. And then Chavez threatened Fox personally. If Rodriguez was not involved in helping Chavez strategize his attack against Fox, who was? Cuban National Assembly President Alarcon was in Argentina during the summit in Mar del Plata.

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