Mexico-Venezuela Dispute Continues, Despite Thaw Efforts

Mixed signals emerged in the dispute between Venezuela and Mexico, with an aide to Mexico's president saying the case was closed and Mexico's foreign ministry still demanding an apology, which Venezuela's foreign minister said was unaccaptable.

Caracas, Venezuela, November 17, 2005—The dispute between Venezuela and Mexico continued, despite recent tentative signals on both sides to overcome the conflict. On Tuesday, Ruben Aguilar, a spokesperson fro Mexico’s President Vicente Fox said, “For us, the case is now closed.” Similarly, Venezuela’s foreign minister, Ali Rodriguez, said, “The indestructible ties between the peoples of Mexico and Venezuela will not be affected by current events that are now taking place.”

While Aguilar went on to say, “We hope that in the coming weeks and months, relations lighten up so they can be re-established to their highest level,” Mexico’s Foreign Ministry issued a brief statement, which said it, “maintains its demand for a formal apology from the Venezuelan government.”

Foreign Minister Rodriguez dismissed the possibility that Venezuela would apologize to Fox, saying that such a demand is unacceptable.

The dispute between the two countries began shortly after the 4th Summit of the Americas, held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, when Mexico’s Fox said, in comments seemingly directed at Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, “[There are] some presidents, fortunately a minority, who blame other countries for all their problems.” According to the New York Times, the Mexican president also suggested that Chavez was divorced from reality. 

Chavez responded in his well-known straight-forward fashion, calling Fox a “puppy dog of the empire” and, despite Mexico’s formal announcement of concern about the comment and ongoing talks between the countries to mend relations, later warned Mr. Fox, “Don’t mess with me, sir, or you’ll get pricked.” 

Monday, after a week of combative remarks over trade liberalization between Chavez and Fox, the two countries recalled their respective ambassadors. Mexico subsequently removed the Venezuelan ambassador’s accreditation. The moves come as Fox’s party lags behind in early polls for next year’s presidential election, where trade liberalization promises to be a hot-button topic.

This division between the two countries has its roots in Chavez’s staunch opposition to the renewal of talks on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), in contrast to Mexican President Vincent Fox, who fervently supported renewed talks.

According to the Seattle Times, Rafael Fernández de Castro, a Mexican expert in international relations said, "Chávez is capitalizing on all the anti-Bush feelings in Latin America. There’s no way to win something like this; you don’t pick a fight with a professional fighter."

Also according to the Times, the dispute between Mexico and Venezuela may have been caused in part by a potential oil conflict between the two producer nations. Several Central American countries have appealed to Venezuela for discounted oil to combat high market prices, while Fox, before the Summit, proposed a $7 billion joint oil project between Mexico and Central America to produce Mexican oil and gas products at lower rates.

Trade Liberalization Divide

The dispute between the two men highlights the ongoing divide between Latin American leaders who support United States economic policies, and those who support and alternate economic vision for Latin America.

Chavez and Fox have long stood on opposite sides of the fence of this debate. Chavez has gained supporters in Venezuela and throughout Latin America because of his fierce opposition to the FTAA, which he has implied is a tool of US imperialism, along with Washington’s other neo-liberal economic policies.

Fox, a former Coca-Cola Executive, by contrast, reiterated his support for trade liberalization after recalling Mexico’s ambassador to Venezuela, saying that his country’s free trade agreements had been indispensable in raising the countries standard of living.

Fox’s claim has often not been supported by economic indicators. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a foundation-funded Washington-based economic think-tank, real annual per capita growth in the post NAFTA period for Mexico was 1.8 percent, about half of what it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Further, manufacturing wages in Mexico fell 21 percent from 1995 to 1999, the early post-NAFTA period and have only now started to recover, according to Global Exchange, a San Francisco based membership-based international human rights organization.

Upcoming Elections

The gap between Fox’s rhetoric and the economic situation in Mexico may be a factor in the country’s presidential elections next year. The candidate of the center-left party Partido de la Revolución Democratica (PRD), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is leading opinion polls. While his rhetoric against trade liberalization has been no where near as strong and Chavez’s, he has said he would attempt to add “co-operation for development” to free trade and goods to the NAFTA trade agreement.

Yesterday, Lopez’s main oppositional candidate, Roberto Madrazo of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), accused Chavez of interfering in Mexican elections because his aides had had contact with Lopez, but he provided no evidence of an exchange. He also compared Lopez unfavorably with Chávez, saying, “They have very similar attitudes. I see authoritarianism in them both, they think they possess the absolute truth and are in permanent conflict with capital.”

While there was no immediate comment from Lopez’s campaign, in the past he has rejected comparison’s with Chavez, telling the Economist, “Each country has its own history…I’m neither a populist nor a neo-liberal but a humanist.”