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Adolfo Aguilar Zinser; envoy with anti-US view

CUERNAVACA, Mexico -- Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, Mexico's former ambassador to the United Nations who was forced out of his job after saying the United States treats Mexico like a ''backyard," died yesterday in a car crash, police said. He was 55.

Known for his independent streak, Mr. Aguilar Zinser was a vocal critic of the United States' unilateral actions in Iraq during his tenure as UN ambassador. He left the position in late 2003 after a diplomatic flap touched off by his comments.

In the 2003 discussion with university students, Mr. Aguilar Zinser said ''the understanding that the political and intellectual class of the United States has of Mexico is a country whose position is that of a backyard."

In replacing Mr. Aguilar Zinser, Mexican President Vicente Fox denied he was under pressure from the United States -- which disapproved of the ambassador's opposition to US actions in Iraq -- but because the diplomat's comments were an ''offense to Mexico" and to him personally.

In an angry resignation letter, the former ambassador accused Fox of betraying a longstanding friendship and embarrassing him in order to improve relations with the United States. ''I am an undiplomatic diplomat," he wrote, accusing the United States of ignoring international law.

Mr. Aguilar Zinser, who had been Mexico's national security adviser before his post at the United Nations, became a critic of Fox and the president's conservative National Action Party, especially on matters of immigration policy.

A stylish lawyer who attended Harvard, Mr. Aguilar Zinser was born into a prominent Mexican family in 1949.

A fluent English speaker, Mr. Aguilar Zinser had taught at the University of California at Berkeley and was well known in Washington circles. As an avowed progressive with John Lennon-style glasses and a taste for Hermes ties, Mr. Aguilar Zinser at times seemed an odd sidekick to Fox, a probusiness rancher and former Coca-Cola executive. As national security adviser, Mr. Aguilar Zinser was fond of saying the most pressing threats to Mexico's security were not kidnappers and terrorists, but poverty and environmental degradation.

He had once served as a senator with the Green Party and was a key operative in the 1994 campaign of leftist presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. He switched allegiances to work for Fox and was considered a key element in the president's attempt to attract support from the left.

''He loved to be where the action was," said Lorenzo Meyer, a historian who taught Mr. Aguilar Zinser in college. ''He was so full of energy and enthusiasm."

Mr. Aguilar Zinser was driving on a highway in the central Mexican state of Morelos when his Jeep Liberty jumped a highway divide and struck an oncoming bus, a police official said.

Material from the Washington Post was used in this obituary.

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