Mexico figure says he wasn’t a spy

Times Staff Writer

Former Mexican Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda on Tuesday denied a newspaper’s allegations that he had served as a Cuban spy for at least three years beginning in the late 1970s.

The allegations appeared Monday in a front-page story in the Mexico City daily El Universal headlined “From Traitor of the Fatherland to Chancellor.”

“Obviously, the story is categorically false,” Castaneda said in a telephone interview. “It’s entirely made up.”


The story cited documents that the newspaper said were obtained from a file belonging to Mexico’s now-defunct Federal Security Directorate (known by its Spanish-language initials, DFS) in Mexico’s national archive. Those documents indicate that Castaneda, a former communist, was recruited by Cuban intelligence in 1979, the paper reported.

For the next several years, according to El Universal, Castaneda pressured his father, Jorge Castaneda y Alvarez de la Rosa, then Mexico’s foreign secretary, to enact policies favorable to Cuba. He also relayed information to Cuban officials about “activities, meetings, events, decisions” and conversations that his father had with other ministers, the story said.

Castaneda’s father served under Jose Lopez Portillo, Mexico’s president from 1976 to 1982.

Castaneda, a political scientist who has written opinion pieces for The Times, acknowledged that during those years he had “worked closely” with his father as an advisor on issues related to Central America and the Caribbean.

But he denied that Cuba ever tried to recruit him as an operative, let alone succeeded. “They never even tried to do it, because they knew they would’ve gotten nowhere,” he said.

Castaneda, who was foreign secretary from 2000 to 2003 under President Vicente Fox, said that El Universal did not contact him for comment about the allegations in its article before publication.

The newspaper refused an interview request from The Times.

In its story, El Universal said that Castaneda’s alleged spying was documented by reports prepared by the DFS and signed by its then-director Miguel Nazar Haro. The DFS was reconstituted and renamed the Center for Investigation and National Security in 1985, amid accusations of being linked to drug-trafficking and other criminal activities connected with the government-sponsored political repressions during Mexico’s so-called dirty war of the 1970s and ‘80s.


Nazar Haro is under house arrest in Monterrey, accused of being involved in the disappearance of Jesus Piedra Ibarra, a former medical student who joined a leftist urban guerrilla organization after becoming outraged over a paramilitary massacre of scores of student protesters in June 1971. Ibarra disappeared shortly after being arrested in April 1975.

“This is a report by one of the most nefarious individuals in recent Mexican history,” Castaneda said, referring to Nazar Haro.

Castaneda broke with his communist past in the early 1980s, when he denounced Cuba’s leadership. Years later, while serving under Fox, Castaneda was at the center of a diplomatic falling-out between Mexico and Cuba, triggered in part by the Fox administration’s close economic and political ties with the United States and its public criticism of the Castro government’s human rights record.

Miguel Angel Quemain, a spokesman for the Mexican archive, said the documents cited by El Universal have been on hand since 2003. Before that they were classified as “reserved” and belonged to the Center for Investigation and National Security, he said.

Rafael Fernandez de Castro, a professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, who described himself as a friend of Castaneda despite having had many disagreements with him over the years, denounced the El Universal story.

“It seems to me that we can say it’s very irresponsible of Universal to publish an article like this without heads or tails,” he said.


Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.