What's In Store For Mexico And Its New President?

Weekend Edition host Scott Simon speaks with Jorge Castaneda, an author and commentator who served as Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 2000 to 2003, about incoming president Enrique Pena Nieto.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For more on the developing relationship between Mexico and United States, we're joined now by Jorge Castaneda. Mr. Castaneda served as Mexico's secretary of foreign affairs from 2000-2003. In 2004, he launched an independent bid to run for president as the people's candidate, but Mexico's Supreme Court declared he couldn't run without the endorsement of an official party. These days, Mr. Castaneda is an academic and commentator. He joins us from his home in Manhattan. Thanks very much for being with us.

JORGE CASTANEDA: Thank you.

SIMON: The incoming president heads I think what we can fairly describe as a kind of old-school political party in Mexico, and yet you seem to think that the party has changed and he's committed to many important reforms.

CASTANEDA: Well, I don't know if the party has changed but I do know that Mexico has changed, and that consequently the old ruling party cannot go back to the ways of the past even if it wanted to, and moreover, it probably doesn't want to. And I think they would like to get a series of reforms done, which they blocked over the 12 years but that now that they're back in office, that they seem to favor such as constitutional reform on oil, allowing foreign investment in oil, such as doing a serious amount of trust busting. We have some of the most infamous monopolies in the world in many ways. On education, on many other issues, we think that there is a real political will on the part of the new team to try and get many of these things done. It doesn't mean it'll happen overnight because it's not just a question of political will but certainly that's a big part of it.

SIMON: Mr. Castaneda, what changed in Mexico, in your judgment, that began to make people see change as more of a necessity?

CASTANEDA: Well, I think there have been several factors that have contributed to this change of paradigms in Mexican public opinion. One clearly has to do with the fact that we have not been growing as much as we should over the last 15 years. We had NAFTA, we had globalization, we had all sorts of things occur, and yet the country did not grow and is not growing at the rate at which it should be growing. We saw other countries growing much more rapidly than Mexico. So, all of these factors have made people in Mexico saying, well, why not us? Why isn't this happening here? And little by little, I think the public discourse on these issues has moved in the direction of saying, OK, there are things that come from the past that we have to change. If we don't change them, we will not grow at rates consonant with what we want and need in Mexico.

SIMON: Mr. Castaneda, have you encountered a lot of Americans as you've moved around the United States or maybe in your classrooms?

CASTANEDA: Well, I've given a lot of speeches and talks throughout the United States, and I think in general I do have a little bit of a feeling about how Americans think and feel about things - not scientifically but at least some decent impressions, yes.

SIMON: And how do you think they see Mexico?

CASTANEDA: Well, I think right now very negatively. And large majorities have a very negative image of Mexico in terms of security, safety, etc., corruption. I mean, we have a terrible image in the United States - we Mexicans, the country does. I don't think there makes any sense to hide that. I think we have to try and change it. But the best way to change it is to change Mexican reality. And the best way to change Mexican reality is to put an end to the war. You can't wage a losing war a different way. What you do with losing wars is you get out. You put an end to them. I think there's a lot of accounting to be done for the Calderon administration's war on drugs and for U.S. support for that war on drugs. I hope the new president is able to distance himself from the outgoing one on this matter. And I also hope the Obama administration doesn't pressure him to continue to pursue this absurd and bloody war on drugs, which is going absolutely nowhere.

SIMON: Jorge Castaneda, former secretary of foreign affairs in Mexico. And you can read his most recent article in full in Foreign Affairs. It's called Mexico's Age of Agreement. Mr. Castaneda, thanks very much for being with us.

CASTANEDA: Thank you very much.

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