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Mexico Counters Cuban Accusations - 2002-04-02

Mexican politicians are on the counterattack against the Communist government of Cuba following over a week of controversy stemming from Cuban President Fidel Castro's abrupt exit from the U.N. Poverty Conference in Monterrey, Mexico on March 21. The apparent cause for the clash between the two nations has to do with an upcoming vote in Geneva.

For the past ten days Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda has been under attack from various leftist politicians and news media commentators. The charges against him came mainly from the Cuban government-controlled newspaper, Granma. The paper accused him of working on behalf of the U.S. government to pressure President Castro to leave the Monterrey meeting early.

President Vicente Fox has had little to say about the controversy, but some members of his party are defending Mr. Castaneda. The leader of the National Action Party's congressional team, Felipe Calderon, says it is time for Cuba's government to back its charges.

He says if the Cuban government has proof, such as recorded phone calls or documents, they should be brought forth. On the other hand, he says, if there is no proof, the Cuban government should apologize.

At the same time, a senator from the leftist party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, Raymundo Cardenas, is calling on his own party to avoid being a cheering section for Fidel Castro. He says the PRD should show solidarity with Cuba when it comes to the U.S. economic embargo against the communist-ruled island, but that the party should not applaud everything Mr. Castro does.

The PRD senator says Mexico should not be subordinate to the United States, but that the Mexican left should also distance itself from Mr. Castro when it comes to the restrictions on freedom that exist in Cuba.

The clash between Mexico and Cuba comes less than three weeks before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva is to vote on whether to condemn Cuba for violations of human rights. Last year, Mexico abstained. This was a change from previous years when Mexico was one of the countries Cuba could count on to vote against the measure.

This year, there have been hints that Mexico could vote against Cuba and some commentators here in Mexico see the recent fuss made by Mr. Castro as a tactic that could make it difficult for the Fox government to make such a move.

In a recent column in the Reforma newspaper, political analyst Sergio Sarmiento said that the controversy created by Mr. Castro in Monterrey would make it almost impossible for Mexico to vote against Cuba in Geneva.

He also accused the Cuban government of mounting a campaign against Mr. Castaneda because the Mexican Foreign Minister, some decades ago, had been a member of the Communist Party and a supporter of the Castro government.

Mr. Sarmiento said that the Cuban government as well as the left in Mexico cannot forgive Mr. Castaneda for having abandoned that philosophy in favor of the pro-business policies of President Fox.

Mexicans, meanwhile, are expressing their support for the Fox government on this issue. A poll published in Reforma Monday showed that 62 percent of respondents believed Fidel Castro had planned on leaving the Monterrey summit early.

Only 25 percent said they thought the Cuban leader had left because of pressure brought to bear by the Mexican government on behalf of the U.S. government.