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Fox Names Leftist as Foreign Minister

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday , November 23, 2000 ; Page A33

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 22 ­­ President-elect Vicente Fox today appointed a left-leaning college professor and author, Jorge G. Castaneda, as Mexico's next foreign minister and a hard-nosed telecommunications executive, Francisco Gil Diaz, to lead his economic team.

The diverse choices by Fox, who will be inaugurated Dec. 1, pointed to a more assertive foreign policy alongside financial policies likely to reassure the business and stock market players whose assessments are key to Mexico's economic health. Fox announced his major cabinet picks as a special commission presented him with a variety of suggestions for his presidency that would include fundamental changes in politics and the military.

Castaneda, 47, said in an interview that Mexico will be more committed to human rights at home and more outspoken on human rights issues abroad under the Fox presidency. Castaneda said Fox and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson plan to sign a declaration just after the inauguration pledging Mexico's new commitment.

Castaneda said he will bring a new emphasis to overseeing Mexico's 50 consulates in the United States and will try to ensure better treatment of Mexicans living in the United States, who send billions of dollars home every year. Castaneda said he, Fox and other cabinet members will stand on highways near the U.S.-Mexico border before Christmas, when traditionally more than 1 million Mexicans come home for the holidays, in hopes of discouraging Mexican police from shaking them down for bribes.

Although Castaneda's father served as foreign minister from 1979 to 1982 and his brother has been a high-ranking foreign service officer, some critics saw him as too mercurial for the diplomatic post. But his supporters pointed to his intellect and experience, from teaching at New York University to writing several well-respected books on Mexican politics.

Gil, 57, chief executive of Avantel S.A. and a former deputy finance minister, is seen as a tax specialist who will help Fox keep his promise to improve Mexico's relatively low rates of tax collection.

The report by the special commission, outlining a broad menu of changes on subjects from abortion to the army, was compiled by veteran politician Porfirio Munoz Ledo and a team of 175 businessmen, civic leaders and others. Fox has not said which of the many initiatives he will push after he assumes power. He has been criticized since his election July 2 for spinning out more proposals for change than he could ever get through a sharply divided Congress. Aides said Fox will hone his proposals once in office, pushing an ambitious but achievable set of priorities.

Some of the changes urged today, including allowing members of Congress to seek reelection, would fundamentally alter Mexican law. In governments controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, since 1929, members of Congress have been elected to a single three-year term. That has made legislators accountable to only an all-powerful president and has allowed them to essentially ignore public opinion.

The panel also suggested a constitutional amendment banning the practice of using the military in police functions, including the fight against Mexico's powerful drug gangs. Many Mexicans are leery of such uses of the military, believing that it has led to high-level corruption by rich drug dealers offering bribes.

Other proposals include a national debate on abortion, which has been a divisive issue for Fox. His right-leaning National Action Party is staunchly Roman Catholic and antiabortion. Moderate Mexicans worry that Fox will allow his party's most conservative elements to dictate policy.

The panel also suggested a South African-style panel to study corruption, human rights violations and other wrongdoing by previous governments. Such an investigation would be opposed by powerful political, business and military interests, but Fox has promised to give the public a clearer accounting of the sins of Mexico's past.