Jorge Castañeda is Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University. A renowned public intellectual, political scientist, and prolific writer, with an interest in Latin American politics, comparative politics and U.S.-Latin American relations, he is the former Foreign Minister of Mexico (2000-2003), and in that position he focused on diverse issues in U.S.-Mexican relations, including migration, trade, security, and narcotics control; joint diplomatic initiatives on the part of Latin American nations; and the promotion of Mexican economic and trade relations globally.
Born in Mexico City in 1953, Dr. Castañeda received undergraduate degrees from both Princeton University and Universite de Paris-I (Pantheon-Sorbonne), an M.A. from Ecole Pratique de Hautes Etudes, Paris I, and his Ph.D. in the History of Economics from the University of Paris. He was a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1985-87) and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing Grant Recipient (1989-1991). Among his many books are "Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left after the Cold War" (1993), "The Mexican Shock" (1995), "Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara" (1997), and "Perpetuating Power: How Mexican Presidents Were Chosen" (2000). Dr. Castañeda is a regular columnist for the Mexican daily Reforma, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek International.
Question: Should Mexico’s constitution be amended to allow its military to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, I certainly do, and I started fighting for this when I was in the foreign ministry with no success. I think it is irresponsible of Mexico to abdicate from this type of commitment with so many other countries in Latin America, smaller or larger, from Chile and Uruguay to Argentina and Brazil, have always fulfilled. And this neutrality thing is quite relative. We entered World War II. We fought on the side of the Allies. We sent a tiny Air Force Battalion to the Pacific. I mean, it was no big deal, but symbolically we were certainly part of the war. This notion that we are neutral is something that Mexicans have made up to themselves, to ourselves now, for a long time which doesn’t really correspond to the truth.
The real issue here is whether Mexico wants to assume the role it has to - a country of 110 million people and a country that has now the 12th or 13th largest economy in the world - should play, or whether it wants to remain in its cocoon, sort of its - mixing metaphors, with its head buried under the sand. I think it shouldn’t. I see no good reason why we shouldn’t participate in UN peacekeeping operations. I see no reason why everybody is participating in Haiti one way or another and we’re not. We’ve sent aid, but that’s all we’ve sent. We’ve sent no troops, no engineers, no nurses, no doctors. Why? Because we have this ridiculous taboo that Mexican forces shouldn’t do this. Well, why shouldn’t they? Why should the Brazilians do so? What's the deal?
Question: What do you see as Mexico’s role in the world over the long term?
Jorge Castañeda: Well, my sense is that we’re moving closer and closer to forms of economic integration with the United States and Canada and conceivably Central America and Caribbean could become part of that in the coming years. I don’t see Mexico as a Latin American country. Too much of trade, investment, tourism, immigration, remittances, absolutely everything is concentrated exclusively with the United States. So, Mexico has to be part of a North American community, a North American union, which at some point probably should include some type of monetary union along European lines with a free flow of labor, with energy being on the table, etc.
How far away are we from that? Quite far, but so did it seem back in Europe in the 1950’s and very little time later they came around and understood that that was their future lay. My sense is that the Mexican society is voting with its feet. We have a higher share of Mexicans living in the United States than we have ever had in our history. One out of every nine Mexicans, Mexican citizens, people born in Mexico, live in the United States today. That’s a lot of people. We have, as I said, a million Americans living in Mexico. That’s more than in any other country in the world for civilian Americans. Military is different, but civilians, it’s the highest number in the world.
So, that’s where Mexico’s going to end up I think. I would prefer to get there more quickly and to manage and orient, regulate the movement instead of just having it happen haphazardly. But, I think the result will be the same anyway.
Recorded on February 1, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen