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Mexico, Cuba Relations Deteriorate - 2002-04-23

Relations between Mexico and Cuba have taken a sharp turn for the worse after Cuban President Fidel Castro made public a recording of a private conversation with Mexican President Vicente Fox. The Cuban leader says the tape proves Mr. Fox tried to pressure him into not attending the United Nations Poverty Summit in Monterrey, Mexico last month. The Fox government is rejecting that statement and lashing out at Mr. Castro for violating basic protocol.

Reading a statement on behalf of President Fox for Mexican radio and television, Monday night, presidential spokesman Rodolfo Elizondo criticized the recording of the private conversation and its release to the public by Mr. Castro. Mr. Elizondo went on to note that the recording did not support the Cuban leader's argument.

He said that, "as he says the Cuban tape shows, the president of Cuba accepted the arrangements for his visit to Monterrey and at no moment rejected any of them, though that would have been his right," Mr. Elizondo said. He also noted that "the two presidents ended the conversation on the tape calling each other 'friend.'"

The Mexican Government calls "unacceptable" what it says have been the Cuban Government's attempts to influence political debate within Mexico. Since Mr. Castro left the Monterrey summit on March 21, the Cuban Government and its supporters in Mexico have claimed Mr. Fox and Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda pressured President Castro to leave the conference early, as an effort to please the United States. Mr. Castaneda denied the charge at the time and both Presidents Fox and Bush also denied the accusation in a news conference at the end of the summit.

The release of the tape in Havana is seen by many Mexican analysts as retribution for Mexico's vote last week at the United Nations Human Rights Conference in Geneva in support of a resolution to monitor human rights in Cuba. It was the first time Mexico had ever voted against Cuba in such a forum. In releasing the tape, Mr. Castro called the Mexican vote, in his words, "the last straw." He said he was fully aware that Mexico, the one nation in Latin America that has never broken relations with Cuba, might now do so.

In the Mexican response, it is made clear relations will be maintained. However, in a strong statement, the Fox government's reply to Mr. Castro lists all the attributes of democracy in Mexico, including free press, separation of powers and independent opposition political parties. It concludes that "in Cuba today there is certainly none of this."