Adolfo Aguilar Zinser

Diplomat whose criticism of the US cost him his job
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, one of Mexico's most controversial politicians, diplomats and columnists, was a left-wing activist, joined the Greens and later served as national security adviser to the conservative president Vicente Fox. But he was best known for a most undiplomatic, but typical speech in which he said the US continued to consider Mexico as "its backyard". Ostensibly, it cost Aguilar Zinser his job as Mexican ambassador to the United Nations.

Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, diplomat, writer and politician: born Mexico City 2 December 1949; Mexican ambassador to the United Nations 2002-03; married Martha Ketchum Mejia (two sons); died 5 June 2005.

Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, one of Mexico's most controversial politicians, diplomats and columnists, was a left-wing activist, joined the Greens and later served as national security adviser to the conservative president Vicente Fox. But he was best known for a most undiplomatic, but typical speech in which he said the US continued to consider Mexico as "its backyard". Ostensibly, it cost Aguilar Zinser his job as Mexican ambassador to the United Nations.

"Ostensibly" because he had been a thorn in the flesh of the George W. Bush administration over the plan to invade Iraq, and Bush had reportedly asked Fox twice to replace him. Aguilar Zinser's detailed legal criticisms of UN resolutions on Iraq, and support he won from non-permanent Security Council members, were seen as playing an important role in Bush's decision to give up on the UN and attack Iraq anyway.

Aguilar Zinser had been appointed to the UN job in January 2002, his term coinciding with Mexico's election to the Security Council. That term had been due to end in January 2004, but on 11 November 2003 he made his famous speech, to students at the Ibéro-American University in Mexico City.

He said American politicians and intellectuals saw Mexico as "a country whose position is that of a backyard" and that Washington wanted to keep its big southern neighbour in "a relationship of convenience and subordination". It was a sentiment widely shared by Mexicans but caused widespread controversy in diplomatic circles.

He announced his resignation on 20 November, condemning his old friend Fox for calling him "unpatriotic" and accusing Fox of removing him because of pressure from the US Secretary of State Colin Powell as a result of his opposition to the war in Iraq. That opposition was shared by a majority of Mexicans, according to polls.

"Vicente . . . Without a doubt, I am not a very diplomatic diplomat," Aguilar Zinser said in his letter of resignation to the President. "But diplomacy cannot be based on the art of lying." The UN President, Kofi Annan, immediately praised and appeared to support him. "We will miss his keen sense of justice and fair play," Annan said after the resignation. "Ambassador Zinser, you can leave with the full knowledge that you have made a difference, and you have made a contribution."

Adolfo Aguilar Zinser was born in Mexico City in 1949. He studied international relations at the city's Colegio de México and later gained a master's degree in international affairs and public administration at Harvard. He joined the all-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1972 but, disillusioned with the party's endemic corruption, he left in 1976 and concentrated on his studies.

Witnessing the PRI's deterioration in the 1990s, he joined Cuauhtémoc Cardenas's centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1994. Three years later, he switched to the Green Ecological Party of Mexico (PVEM) and was elected to the Senate.

In the 2000 presidential election, Aguilar Zinser and the Greens supported his old friend Fox and his conservative National Action Party (PAN). Fox rewarded him by appointing him as national security adviser, and later, in 2002, to the UN job.

After his resignation in late 2003, Aguilar Zinser concentrated on academic work and journalism.

Phil Davison

Comments