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NAFTA foe tapped for Mexico Cabinet


By Laurence Iliff and Ricardo Sandoval / The Dallas Morning News

MEXICO CITY ­ President-elect Vicente Fox chose a controversial opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement as his foreign minister Wednesday and a former border governor to head the new Cabinet position of border czar.

Incoming Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castañeda, a leftist academic and democracy activist, will have to convince skeptics in the United States that he is neither anti-American nor anti-business, analysts said, if he is to survive for any time in the post.

"The main thing Castañeda has to do is to explain to the U.S. that he is not a threat," said political analyst Primitivo Rodríguez. "He believes in free trade; he believes in globalization. If he can explain himself to the U.S., then pretty soon he may become the darling of the Fox Cabinet."

Mr. Castañeda is seen as a capable man by many in the U.S. government, but some say he must now step up to a whole new challenge.

"When you assume a position of such international responsibility, you are no longer an individual, and you are no longer an academic. You are your country," said Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Richard Fisher. "He must now act internationally on behalf of all Mexicans."

Roger Noriega, the ranking staff member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an aide to Republican committee Chairman Jesse Helms, said last week that Mr. Castañeda was too anti-American for the post.

But Mr. Castañeda also has some friends in Washington who welcomed his appointment to the top diplomatic post.

"I look forward to working with Jorge Castañeda," said Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., a free-trade critic. "Over the years, I and many other members from both sides of the aisle have closely worked with Mr. Castañeda. I know his appointment will be warmly received."

Mr. Fox, the pro-business former governor of Guanajuato, will become the first opposition president in 71 years on Dec. 1. He announced 12 of his much-anticipated Cabinet picks on Wednesday and will name more on Friday.

"I promised an honest, experienced and professional team, each with a great love for Mexico," Mr. Fox said amid a media crush in the colonial Museum of San Carlos. "There is a lot of talent in Mexico. There were 100 million candidates for these jobs."

Mr. Castañeda, 47, was the most controversial of those choices so far, given his leftist past, his criticism of the 1994 NAFTA trade accord with the United States and Canada, and his war of words with the Mexican media.

His bearded face is best known in the United States accompanying his opinion columns in Newsweek magazine. Currently, he is a visiting professor at New York University.

In a brief speech, Mr. Castañeda said he would work on behalf of businesspeople looking for export markets, artists wanting to spread Mexican culture and especially immigrant workers forced to leave their homeland.

Mr. Castañeda wrote 13 books, including a biography of Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto "Ché" Guevara.

Mr. Fox also named Ernesto Ruffo to be the first "northern border commissioner" in Mexican history. Mr. Ruffo is the former governor of Baja California, home to Tijuana, and said Wednesday that he will focus mostly on border economic development.

Mr. Fox named Victor Lichtinger to be the environment minister, and his longtime spokeswoman, Marta Sahagun, to head the presidential press office.