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Mexican Appointee Raises Concerns

Updated 1:48 AM ET November 23, 2000

By KEN GUGGENHEIM, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - In 1988, Robert Pastor published a book with Mexico's future foreign secretary, Jorge Castaneda, the very title of which captured the divide between their nations: "Limits to Friendship: The United States and Mexico."

Pastor said both men have moderated their views in the 12 years since they debated - in alternating chapters - political, economic and social issues separating their countries. Castaneda's nationalistic, some say anti-American stance, has changed, he said.

But many U.S. conservatives aren't sure. Castaneda's appointment Wednesday to become top Mexico's top diplomat has dimmed the hope of some that the election of Vicente Fox as president would greatly improve historically tense U.S.-Mexican relations.

"Castaneda's attitude and writings have been fairly anti-U.S.," said Roger Noriega, a senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Inasmuch that Mexico's relations with the United States are so important, we were hoping for someone in the foreign ministry who could play a constructive role in that relationship. That may still happen, but it remains to be seen whether Castaneda can put aside his anti-U.S. prejudices and work with us."

But Pastor, an Emory University professor and a Latin American policy adviser to Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore, said Castaneda's appointment was "a bold decision."

"Jorge is controversial because he is a man of ideas, but he is also a modern Mexican who wants to work and help Fox with a new agenda, in not only U.S-Mexican relations, but in Mexico's relations with the rest of the world," he said.

Fox will be inaugurated Dec. 1, ending the Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year hold on the presidency. The election of Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive and an advocate of free trade, raised hopes in the United States of improved relations with Mexico, which long has been suspicious of its powerful northern neighbor.

Castaneda, 47, became a close adviser to Fox during his three-year campaign. One of Mexico's main intellectuals, Castaneda is frequently published in the worlds' leading newspapers and magazines. He has taught at several universities in the United States and currently is a professor at New York University.

"Jorge has a lot of experience in the United States, lecturing writing, teaching. He certainly has tended in his past writings to point out the shortcomings in U.S. policy," said George Grayson, a Mexico specialist at the College of William & Mary. "But he also knows as well as anyone in Mexico the many strengths of the United States."

Castaneda's nationalist credentials may provide Fox with a strong defense against rivals at home who frequently warn that Fox will sell out Mexican interests to the United States.

And even if Castaneda's rhetoric is seen as anti-American in the United States, the impact may be may not be severe. Mexican government contacts with the United States often bypass the State Department, with Treasury, Justice and law enforcement officials working directly with their Mexican counterparts.

Other Fox appointments - such as telecommunications executive Francisco Gil Diaz as treasury secretary and World Bank economist Luis Ernesto Derbez as economy secretary - are likely to reassure U.S. policy makers and business executives.

"Oftentimes, at a time when Mexico is moving closer to the United States in economic terms, it will move further away from the United States in diplomatic terms," said Delal Baer, a Mexico analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.