The rift between Mexico and Venezuela over comments exchanged over trade deepened today as both countries called for the immediate return of their respective ambassadors. The moves came after Mexico issued an ultimatum for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías to apologize for his recent comments or else face the removal of its ambassador from Venezuela. Caracas responded by calling for the immediate withdrawal of its ambassador to Mexico, and Mexico quickly followed suit.
Earlier today Mexican President Vicente Fox’s spokesman Ruben Aguilar said that cultural and business ties between the two countries would remain intact even if they withdrew their ambassador. Trade between the two countries is approximately $1.2 billion a year according to the Venezuelan-Mexican trade association in Caracas, less than 0.5% of Mexican-US trade.
The most recent division began after the Summit of the Americas, a hemispheric political forum held in Mar del Plata, Argentina earlier this month, where Chávez was a staunch opponent of the renewal of talks on Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), in contrast to Mexican President Vincent Fox, a fervent supporter. In post-summit remarks, seemingly directed toward Chávez, Fox annoyed Caracas saying, “[There are] some presidents, fortunately a minority, who blame other countries for all their problems."
In response last Wednesday, Chávez said of Fox, “How sad that the President of a people like the people of Mexico lets himself become the puppy dog of the empire.” Chávez reiterated the comments to the Mexican President, yesterday, during his weekly television program, saying, “Don’t mess with me, sir, or you’ll get pricked.” Mexico immediately demanded an apology, threatening to remove its ambassador from Venezuela if it did not receive one by midnight tonight. In an explanation, Mexico’s foreign relations department said that while Mexico is not interested in breaking relations with Venezuela, an apology was necessary because Chávez’s comments "strike at the dignity of the Mexican people and government." Venezuela Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez responded in a statement by calling for the removal of its ambassador to Mexico, and saying, “this situation is entirely the responsibility of President Fox.” He also said that Chávez’s remarks are a result of his speaking style, which is different from Fox’s, and should be understood in that context.
Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement Stalled The result of the Summit of the Americas, in addition to the war of words between Venezuela and Mexico, has been a stalling of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Five countries—Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay—did not agree to sign onto the final summit document, which called for the revival of negotiations on the FTAA. This was seen as a blow to the Bush administration, and to its longtime supporter Mexico, who had hoped to revive the talks after the summit.
Though all other Latin American countries signed on to the agreement, and aside from Venezuela, no other country would proclaim the FTAA “dead,” the failure of the rival of FTAA talks was at least a nominal win for Chavez, who has long campaigned against pro-Washington neo-liberal policies, which he says harms Latin America’s poor. According to numbers from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, from 1960 to 1979, Latin America per capital growth was 79 percent, which fell to only 11 percent between 1980 and 1999, the years of neo-liberal economic reforms.