Fox urged to condemn Cuba’s human rights


Some of Mexico’s leading intellectuals on Wednesday urged President Vicente Fox to reverse a longstanding policy toward Cuba by condemning the communist island’s human rights violations during a U.N. vote in Geneva.

Their letter, signed by dozens of influential intellectuals, is part of a domestic and international struggle over how Fox’s new government will deal with Cuba.

It came a day after Mexico’s Congress voted to ask Fox to continue Mexico’s support of Cuba at the U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting.

“We respectfully ask our delegation to take a position that is clear and responds to the serious, systematic violations of individual freedoms that the Cuban people suffer,” the intellectuals’ letter said.

Mexico has never voted in favor of the U.N. resolutions criticizing Cuba’s human rights record, but Fox’s administration appears to be reviewing that policy.

After the vote in Congress, the Foreign Secretariat issued a statement saying it had not yet decided how it would vote because it wanted to see the wording of the resolutions.

Fox, whose election last year ended more than 70 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has pushed for closer relations with Cuba, but also has expressed hopes for a democratic transition on the island.

For decades, Cuba counted Mexico among its closest friends. Mexico was the only Latin American country that refused to break relations with the communist nation after the 1959 revolution that brought Cuban leader Fidel Castro to power. Castro himself was once an exile in Mexico.

Relations chilled in late 1999, when former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo began making clear, if implicit calls for greater democracy in Cuba.

Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, has sent out mixed signals on Cuba.

As governor of the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, Fox met Castro during a 1999 visit to Havana and suggested Cuba was a model in health and social services. Castro attended Fox’s inauguration last December.

But Fox’s administration has also said that it plans to be more active defending human rights, both within and outside of its borders.

Fox’s foreign secretary, Jorge Castaneda, repeatedly criticized Cuba’s human rights record before joining Fox’s government and wrote a biography of Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara that infuriated Cuban officials.

Fox will likely meet with U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a strong opponent of Cuba, when the Republican begins a three-day visit to Mexico as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week.

Still, Mexican officials continue to reject the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. The letter signed by the intellectuals urged the Mexican government to reject the embargo.

Several human rights groups backed the letter, among them the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, which was led until December by Fox’s new ambassador for human rights, Mariclaire Acosta.

Among those signing the document were historians Enrique Krause and Jean Meyer and writers Carlos Monsivais, Homero Aridjis, Guillermo Sheridan, Angeles Mastretta, Laura Esquivel and Guadalupe Loaeza.

Cuba had responded to news reports of the letter before it was even formally released. Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque called those behind it “burnouts.”