Venezuela-Mexico tensions escalate

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused Mexican leader Vicente Fox of being a “puppy” of President Bush and warned: “Don’t mess with me, sir, because you’ll get stung.” Fox shot back Nov. 14 that “we have dignity in this country” and demanded an apology. Chavez responded by calling home his ambassador, and Mexico quickly responded in kind.

“The whole world knows that this didn’t begin on the Venezuelan side,” Venezuelan Ambassador Vladimir Villegas said. When asked what the driving issue was behind the controversy, he said, “look a little bit north”—a reference to the United States.

Tensions between Fox and Chavez boiled over after the summit in Argentina, where Fox defended a US-backed proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Chavez proclaimed the idea dead. On Nov. 13, Mexico issued a statement saying Chavez’ insult “strikes at the dignity of the Mexican people and government.” Early the next day, Fox’s spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Mexico would expel the ambassador if Venezuela didn’t apologize by midnight.

Hours later in Venezuela, Foreign Secretary Ali Rodriguez said his country would not accept Mexico’s demands. Venezuela “rejects as an unjustified attack the ultimatum issued by the government of Mexico,” Rodriguez said. “This situation is entirely the responsibility of President Fox.”

Fox also said he would continue to fight for free trade. “In this issue we have to avoid personalities and characterizations,” he told CNN en Espanol. “This is not about Mr. Chavez. This is not about Mr. Fox. It’s about two nations.”

Aguilar said withdrawing ambassadors wouldn’t mean breaking diplomatic ties completely with Venezuela, but Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez characterized Chavez’ latest comments as “truly infuriating.”

Also Nov. 14, Mexican prosecutors announced a large increase in heroin shipments entering Mexico from Venezuela, and suggested that corrupt Venezuelan airport workers are letting the drugs through. The prosecutors denied the announcement was related to the diplomatic dispute.

Fox said in a subsequent interview with CNN that an apology was necessary. “Of course, my minister of foreign relations and most of the people in Mexico are demanding that apology because [Chavez] used very strong words,” Fox said. When asked why Mexico recalled its ambassador, he replied “because we have dignity.” (AP, al-Jazeera, Nov. 14)

The presidential nominee for Mexico’s former ruling party has weighed in by accusing Chavez of interfering in the process leading up to next year’s election, saying aides of the Venezuelan president have already been in contact with leftist Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador and Chavez have many “similarities,” Roberto Madrazo, recently nominated candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), asserted during a meeting with foreign correspondents.

“I see an authoritarianism in both. I see irreducible positions as holders of the absolute truth…social-assistance policies instead of a battle for equality, and I see a lack of respect for the law.”

Madrazo said, “I am convinced that [Chavez] is going to interfere with the fifth republic here in Mexico, as he is doing in Ecuador, as he is doing in Bolivia. I have no doubt.”

Mexico’s presidential election, scheduled for July 2006, will mark the second time Madrazo and Lopez Obrador face each other. The first occasion was in 1994, when Madrazo defeated Lopez Obrador in a race for the governor’s office in the oil-rich Gulf coast state of Tabasco.

Also vying for the presidency is the Felipe Calderon of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), a former Fox cabinet member. Lopez Obrador has led both Madrazo and Calderon in polls for more than a year.

Madrazo said he would promote forming alliances between the PRI and other political parties such as the Green Party as a strategy to recover power in 2006. He said the lack of such alliances led to the party’s loss in 2000. (AP, Nov. 14)

See our last posts on Venezuela and Mexico, and on the Argentina summit.