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Mexico Stops Short of Military Committment in War on Terror

Mexican President Vicente Fox has reiterated his support for the United States in the war on terrorism, but has stopped short of promising any military involvement in the struggle. The Mexican leader has been hampered by nationalists within his own government and anti-American sentiment within the populace.

In the aftermath of the tragic events in New York and Washington, President Fox expressed sympathy and support for the United States. He promised that Mexico would collaborate in the global battle against terrorism. But in the following days, Mr. Fox came under fire from those here in Mexico who objected to any expression of support for the United States.

Prominent author Carlos Fuentes used a disparaging slang word to suggest that Mexico should not be the servant of Washington. But other Mexicans countered that, and said their country should do more to help their northern neighbor. Columnist Sergio Sarmiento noted the help the United States has given Mexico in recent years, and said Mexicans who want to distance themselves from the United States should not be surprised if they don't get any help next time they need it.

President Fox has reiterated his support for the United States, and says he has spoken with President Bush by telephone more than once since September 11. The Mexican leader even appeared live on a U.S. television interview program last week to voice his support.

But expressions of anti-U.S. sentiment in some sectors, and the country's traditional pacifist policy in external affairs may politically limit what Mr. Fox can do. Augusto Gomez, a Congressional deputy from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was among lawmakers publicly questioning the Fox offer of unconditional support to the United States. He asked if this policy of unconditional support for the northern neighbor meant that Mexico had declared war, and, if so, against whom.

The PRI, which ruled Mexico uninterrupted for 71 years, until Mr. Fox came to power last year, has been less strident than some of the smaller, left-leaning parties, particularly the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. While the PRD holds few seats in Congress, it controls several states, as well as the Federal District, which comprises Mexico City. Last week, PRD activists, led by prominent national leaders, marched here in Mexico City, denouncing any U.S. military action in the Middle East or Central Asia, and calling for Mexico to stay out of the conflict. Some of the signs carried by demonstrators used the derogatory term "gringo" to refer to the United States, and condemned so-called "gringo aggression."

Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda sought to explain Fox administration policy before the Mexican Congress. He said that Mexico would not go to "war." He went on to say that "we are not going to participate militarily. They [the U.S.] have not asked for it, and we have not offered it."

While Mexicans continue to argue over whether and how to support the United States in its hour of need, there is also a growing fear that the consequences of what happened September 11 will be felt strongly here. Mexico was already in recession as the result of an economic slowdown in the United States that is likely to deepen as a result of the attacks.

Mexico relies on remittances from Mexicans living north of the border for a third of its foreign earnings, and the Unites States is the recipient of around 85 percent of Mexican exports. Mexican efforts to have the United States relax immigration rules have also been scuttled by calls for increased security, following the terrorist attacks. Restrictions at U.S. border crossings have caused up to four-hour backups and a decrease in both immigrant and drug smuggling activity.