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Condoleezza Rice Visits Mexico

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice smiles as she listens to opening statements by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before her testimony regarding President Bush's 2006 budget for the State Department on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2005 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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Mexicans downplayed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit here, saying President Vicente Fox's image as a lame-duck leader and the United States' preoccupation with other parts of the world are likely to block any major developments in the bilateral relationship.

"The templates are moving not in favor, but against any dramatic or strategic move" on the part of Mexico or the United States, said Riordan Roett, director of Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Because campaigning for next year's presidential election already has begun in Mexico - and will begin in the United States soon after a Mexican president takes office in 2006 - chances are slim for any major changes in the U.S.-Mexico dynamic, Roett said.

"We're not going to have any new policy initiatives," he said.

Mexico, which will host Rice's first visit to Latin America as secretary of state on Thursday, has increasingly complained of having a bottom ranking on Washington's list of priorities in the post-Sept. 11 world.

"The porousness of our borders, the bitter political climate here and an economy that continues to produce migrants is not compatible with a neighbor that fears enemies with proven destructive capacity," lamented editorial writer Jorge Montano in the El Universal newspaper on Wednesday.

Now, instead of pushing for a program that would legalize millions of Mexican workers in the United States, leaders seem resigned to supporting U.S. President Bush's proposal for a guest worker program that would allow some Mexicans with jobs to enter, but not stay permanently, in the country. They also recognize even that proposal has a tough fight in the U.S. Congress, which recently has debated measures to restrict, not expand, migrant rights.

President Bush will likely discuss the guest-worker proposal with Fox when the two meet in Texas later this month along with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. The purpose of Rice's meeting with Mexican officials Thursday is to discuss the agenda for those trilateral talks.

In the meantime, Mexican leaders said they planned to lodge another protest with Washington against "migrant hunters," the term Mexico uses to describe the nearly 500 U.S. civilians who reportedly have volunteered to patrol the Arizona border for illegal Mexican crossers.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission President Jose Luis Soberanes urged Fox to speak out against the so-called "Minuteman Project" when he meets with Rice on Thursday in the Mexican presidential residence, Los Pinos. The United States should use all available legal means to crack down on the aggressors, Soberanes was quoted as saying in Wednesday editions of El Universal.

On Tuesday, just two days before Rice's visit, Fox once again forcefully rejected recent U.S. reports that have criticized drug trafficking, border crimes, human rights abuses and potential electoral instability in Mexico.

In an interview with a nationally broadcast Mexican radio station, Fox remarked sarcastically that he didn't know if the reports had been released by President Bush "intentionally," or due to a "lack of control" over the administration's employees.

"But in any case they are shameful," he said. "I categorically reject them, and if this is the way they (U.S. officials) think they will make a partner out of Mexico, they are very much mistaken."

Fox added that Mexico is not interested "either in pressure or threats" from the United States, but hoped instead for a dialogue.

By Lisa J. Adams