Venezuela, Mexico at Odds over Trade Proposal
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Tensions between Mexico and Venezuela have led both countries to recall their ambassadors. Venezuela's leader, Hugo Chavez, and Mexican President Vicente Fox disagree over the US-backed proposal for a Free Trade Area. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on two leaders whose relations are now at an all-time low.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:
According to Venezuela, Mexico started it with comments made by Vicente Fox during this month's Summit of the Americas in Argentina. Fox is a staunch supporter of the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas, and he made reference to his displeasure with Argentina's leader and the Venezuelan president for their opposition to it during and after the summit. Here's Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez speaking in Caracas yesterday.
Foreign Minister ALI RODRIGUEZ (Venezuela): (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, `Once the summit was concluded, again, President Vicente Fox spoke against the Venezuelan position in disrespectful terms. The Venezuelan government waited for a positive sign from President Fox.' He says, `Because of his silence, it was necessary to give the answer that we did.' Chavez, though, has not been silent on the matter. The leftist leader is known for his outspoken, some say pugnacious, attitude. Last week, he called Fox `a lapdog of the United States' for the Mexican leader's support for the Free Trade Area. On Sunday, on his weekly talk show, "Hello President," he issued his ultimatum to Fox.
President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, `Don't mess with me, sir, because you'll get stung.'
(Soundbite of applause)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Monday morning, Fox spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, asked for a formal apology within 24 hours and said if they did not receive one, Mexico would withdraw its ambassador. Venezuela's answer came very shortly thereafter. Venezuela's ambassador would be recalled and diplomatic ties downgraded effective immediately. Mexico responded in kind. In an interview with CNN, the Mexican president said that President Chavez's words were the cause of the spat.
(Soundbite of CNN interview)
President VICENTE FOX (Mexico): (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, `What you can't do is take an issue that regards the economic development of our countries and make it personal and use adjectives that are not tolerable and acceptable to Mexico and the Mexicans.' Fox and Chavez are ideological rivals. One is a leftist; the other leads a party from the right. But beyond that lies a more fundamental battle taking place in Latin America over US influence in the region.
Mr. RAFAEL FERNANDEZ DeCASTRO (Foreign Relations Analyst): I think it's very serious. It's very stupid, but it's pretty serious.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mexico-based foreign relations analyst Rafael Fernandez DeCastro.
Mr. DeCASTRO: Chavez--he's capitalizing all the criticisms and all the bad feelings against Mr. Bush. So now it happens that Mexico has become the defender of the Bush policies of Latin America that is ...(unintelligible) Chavez have given to the affair and it has been very costly for Mexico in our relationship with Latin America.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chavez is not only making waves in Mexico's foreign policy, but also in its internal politics. Next year's presidential elections here has leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ahead in the polls. In an opening salvo of mud-slinging, the candidate who represents the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI that ruled Mexico for 71 years suggested that Chavez wants to influence the elections through Lopez Obrador. There is a saying that all politics is local, but it seems that it can be international, too. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.
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