Mexico and the United States, drawing up an agenda for their new administrations, said on Tuesday they would back peace talks in Colombia, but agreed to disagree over Cuba.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda expressed concern about the deaths of illegal Mexican migrants on the U.S. border, a matter to be taken up by Presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox when they meet on Feb 16.
Powell said President Bush’s decision to go south of the border on his first trip abroad was “powerful evidence of the special place Mexico holds in our national priorities.”
Fox, a rancher and former Coca-Cola executive who in December ended seven decades of one-party rule in Mexico, seeks deeper ties to the United States based on the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Castaneda said.
Mexico last year overtook Japan as the United States’ second largest trading partner after Canada.
Powell said the Bush Administration will back efforts to negotiate a political settlement to the decades old armed conflict in Colombia, where U.S. military backing for an offensive against “narco-guerrillas” has worried Latin American neighbors concerned with a spillover of violence and refugees.
Washington is pouring US$1.3 billion into Colombia, mostly in military aid to train and equip army units for a drive against cocaine production protected by Marxist guerrillas.
Mexico and other Latin American governments are worried that the military buildup of Plan Colombia blurred the lines between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency in Colombia, and they have come out strongly in favor of the peace process.
But Powell stressed the Bush Administration will do all it can to bring about peace in Colombia and avoid the spread of the drug problem to other countries.
“At the end of the day (the insurgency) will only be solved by a political solution, by negotiations,” he said.
“And so we encourage President Pastrana to keep working to see if he can find a political solution, and the United States will lend its good offices,” Powell said.
“I don’t think there is a military solution to the insurgency problem, but the people of Colombia are suffering, they are in danger of seeing their democracy destroyed, frankly, by the combination of narcotrafficking and insurgency,” Powell said.
Fox sent special envoy Andres Rozenthal to the Colombian jungle 10 days ago to meet leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest Marxist rebel movement, in an effort to help kick start stalled peace talks with the Colombian government, Castaneda told policy experts earlier.