Mexico's President Snubs Bush

Jose Suarez, left, and Joe Jesse Suarez, the father and brother of Javier Suarez Medina (right, in prison photo), leave the prison after witnessing his execution for killing a Dallas police officer, 8-14-02, Huntsville, Texas. AP

Hours after Texas ignored the pleas of Mexico's president and put a drug smuggler to death for killing a Dallas police officer, Vicente Fox angrily canceled a meeting with President Bush as relations between the two neighbors appeared to sour.

The White House put the brightest face it could on Fox's snub of an invitation to Mr. Bush's Texas ranch, emphasizing what it said are strong ties between the two countries.

White House spokesman Jimmy Orr said Bush "respects President Fox and the two have an excellent professional relationship and a strong friendship that reflects the deep bonds between their two countries.

"President Bush looks forward to his next meeting with President Fox," Orr said. He had no comment about Fox's decision itself or on when the meeting would be rescheduled.

Despite his anger over the execution, Fox made no reference to his relationship with President Bush.

But the slight came as the once-warm relationship between the Fox and Bush administrations already was suffering from a series of disagreements.

Javier Suarez Medina is the fifth Mexican executed in Texas in the past 20 years, in what is becoming an increasingly sensitive issue for U.S.-Mexican relations.

Fox had made several appeals to U.S. authorities to pardon Medina, who he said was a Mexican national. He said Suarez was never told he could contact the Mexican consulate for help after his 1988 arrest, violating the 1963 Vienna Convention of Consular Relations.

Twelve Latin American nations, plus Spain and Poland, filed a legal brief in support of the Mexican appeal for Suarez' life. His attorney, Sandra Babcock, says Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, also asked that the execution not go forward and wrote a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell requesting that the case be reviewed.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal and Texas Gov. Rick Perry denied Suarez a reprieve. Wednesday evening, authorities in Huntsville gave Suarez a lethal injection as he sang the hymn "Amazing Grace."

Within hours, Fox's chief spokesman called a news conference to announce that the Mexican president wouldn't make a scheduled Aug. 26-28 trip to four Texas cities and to visit Bush at his ranch in Crawford.

"This decision is an unequivocal signal of rejection of the execution," said the spokesman, Rodolfo Elizondo. "It would be inappropriate, in these lamentable circumstances, to go ahead with the visit to Texas."

White House spokesman Jimmy Orr said Bush knew about Fox's decision and emphasized the two leaders' strong ties.

"President Bush respects President Fox and the two have an excellent professional relationship and a strong friendship that reflects the deep bonds between their two countries," Orr said. "President Bush looks forward to his next meeting with President Fox."

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor believed Fox recognized the sovereignty of Texas and U.S. law. Mexico doesn't have a death penalty and refuses to extradite people who might face capital punishment in another country.

Presidents Fox and Bush began their terms as close allies, meeting at the Mexican leader's ranch on the U.S. president's first foreign trip wearing cowboy boots and shirt sleeves, fawning over their newfound friendship. Mr. Bush said Fox made him "feel like I'm among family."

But bilateral relations have become delicate in recent months, with Mexican politics becoming increasingly radicalized and a series of spats souring cooperation.

Fox is the most pro-U.S. president in recent Mexican history, but his critics say U.S. officials still shrug off his requests and ignore Mexican interests on important issues.

In addition to his failure to save Suarez's life, Fox has also been unable to hammer out a much-anticipated immigration agreement with American officials in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A water dispute in which Mexico owes the United States millions of gallons of water and trade clashes over U.S. efforts to block certain Mexican agricultural imports have also served to cool relations between the two neighbors.

"Fox is showing the United States that if it ignores Mexico, Mexico will ignore it," said Javier Mendez, a 33-year-old accountant who said he listened to live coverage of Suarez's execution on his car radio.

Suarez, 33, was put to death after pleading in English and Spanish for forgiveness from relatives of Lawrence Cadena, the 43-year-old anti-narcotics officer he shot when he was 19.

Suarez had become religious in prison and recently told reporters that he preferred to die rather than live in the intense isolation of Texas' death row, which allows prisoners out of their cells for only one hour a day, and always alone.

"I'd like to apologize to the Cadena family for whatever hurt and suffering I've caused them," he said. "I sincerely ask in your heart to forgive me."

When Suarez was pronounced dead, Lawrence Cadena Jr. thanked local and federal authorities "who helped push this through the system."

Fox had battled hard for a pardon, calling and sending a letter to Perry and directing his foreign secretary to contact U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He even spoke to Bush on the telephone Tuesday night, though officials did not say what they discussed.

Fox claimed Suarez was a Mexican citizen who was denied his right to assistance from the Mexican consulate at the time of his arrest. Texas officials said it isn't clear Suarez, who spent most of his life in the United States, was Mexican.

Suarez was born in Mexico, but lived in Texas since age 3. Dallas police have said they did not put him in contact with Mexican officials because they did not know he was a Mexican.

Similar appeals in Texas citing the Vienna Convention failed to save condemned inmates Stanley Faulder, a Canadian, and Miguel Flores, a Mexican.

The execution - and the government's last-ditch efforts to stop it - dominated headlines across Mexico, where photographs of and interviews with the round-faced, innocuous-looking Suarez turned up in most newspapers and on major television stations.

"His straight brow and mouth speak of a person who almost always acted in an upright manner," columnist Sergio Jaubert wrote in the newspaper Milenio on Wednesday.

But a protest outside the U.S. Embassy as the execution was carried out drew only four people.

"I don't understand how Americans can say, 'In God we trust,' and then in God's name kill somebody," said one of the protesters, 46-year-old Guillermo Marin Franco.

  • Francie Grace

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