TOPICS > Politics

Continental Divide

August 15, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Now the angry reaction of Mexico and its President Vincente Fox. The Mexican leader canceled his meeting with President Bush next week in response to the execution of Javier Suarez medina. Mexico considered him a Mexican citizen. Texas officials said his nationality was unclear. He received the death penalty for killing a narcotics officer. For more, we go to Mary Jordan, co-bureau chief in Mexico City for the Washington Post. Mary, what did the Mexican government say was the reason for the cancellation of the trip?

MARY JORDAN: Well, they were very explicit about it. Very short time last night after Javier Suarez Medina was executed the presidential spokesman came out and said it’s simply inappropriate to go now. There’s a lot of anger here. There was a personal plea from the President, Vicente Fox to the U.S. Government saying, please, we’re just asking you to revisit this case because we believe that his human rights were violated.

RAY SUAREZ: And because I was executed at all? I mean was there any doubt about his guilt in Mexico?

MARY JORDAN: No. The issue… it’s very interesting yesterday before he died I was just on the phone, I was talking to the Mexican official who was in the cell with him. And just before he died, he admitted he had done this. So the issue was never did he kill this officer or not, but there was an important issue here, and it was that because the Mexican consulate was not notified, he didn’t have their representation; he didn’t have their lawyers.

This man was a poor man who by many accounts especially of the Mexican government has very sloppy lawyers. They feel that this assassination of this police officer happened when he was 19 years old. He was poor. He had bad representation. And had the Mexican government been notified, they would have supplied a better lawyer and he may have gotten decades in prison but he wouldn’t have died last night.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, once Texas went ahead with the execution, was there divided opinion inside the cabinet, among the president’s advisors over whether Vicente Fox should go ahead with the visit anyway?

MARY JORDAN: I think not. I think that it was absolutely politically impossible for Vicente Fox to go to Texas, the very state that this happened in, just in a few weeks. Fox would have been vilified by congress here. They are looking for any opportunity to paint Fox as too pro American. You know, many people here say that Fox and Bush are, you know, said to be close. They’re kind of cowboys. They both have ranches. They like… they’re good friends by all accounts. But Mexicans are increasingly saying, well, what do we have to show for it? Fox says we’re going to get an immigration package. He goes up to Washington for state dinners but at the end of the day Mexico has gotten nothing it’s asked for. The agenda is definitely stalled here. And people… one ambassador was saying that the United States hasn’t even given Mexico a taco. We have got nothing to show for this so-called special relationship.

RAY SUAREZ: In a very real sense, the president of Mexico had to choose between maintaining his relationship with President Bush and worrying about his popularity at home?

MARY JORDAN: No question about it. The very popular… it was a very popular move by Fox not to go to visit Texas next month. You know, he was supposed to go four states, four cities within Texas. Lots of rallies were planned but had he gone after the U.S., you know, denied his personal very public personal pleas, the man who died last night, Javier Suarez Medina, his face has been on the cover of every newspaper here for days. The execution was on the radio live. I mean millions of people here listened to this last night — the blow-by-blow. He was in his cell praying. Every detail was on the air. It’s a very emotional thing. A lot of people are angry about it. You know, on the way over here I was talking to people, what do you think? Everyone knows this guy’s name. It may not be a big deal in the states but it’s a big deal here.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there any ambiguity, any at least conflicted feelings about making a cop killer a national cause celeb? Are there others in Mexico saying, well, hold on a minute, this guy isn’t a hero?

MARY JORDAN: Many people say if you go to the states you’ve got to obey the U.S. laws. And some people here think, you know, Mexico does not have a death penalty. This is kind of a different way of thinking. If a narco traffic… if a major drug dealer here killed 19 people tomorrow, he cannot face a death penalty. It’s just a philosophical difference. The laws here say it’s cruel and unusual punishment. He should be locked away for 60 years but not killed.

But people here say, well, you know, I understand you go to the states you obey their laws but why are they picking on this kid who was 19, who was poor, he had a bad lawyer? Why does he get the death penalty when people in the states who kill Mexicans don’t? I mean this has been a lot of what’s been on the air waves. Why is this guy who kills… he’s a young Mexican. He killed somebody. He gets the death penalty but other people in the states who kill Mexicans don’t. So I think there’s a lot of feeling, well, you know, being picked on, a little let down and a little bit like Mexicans get harsher penalties than Americans.

RAY SUAREZ: Mary Jordan from Mexico City, thanks a lot for being with us.

MARY JORDAN: You’re welcome.