THE Gringolandia policies of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari have set the teeth of Mexican leftists on edge.No other Mexican president in recent history has so eagerly embraced closer relations with the United States, a nation that once stole half of Mexico's territory. How, the radicals ask, can President Salinas risk bonding with that overbearing northern neighbor which has invaded and meddled in Mexican internal affairs countless times? Salinas, critics say, is selling out to the Yanquis, forsaking his Latin American brothers. True, the North American free trade pact is the priority. But far from abandoning his campaneros, Salinas appears to be simply leading a pack of Latin American free-market groupies, who see trade deals as one way out of poverty and debt. Indeed, many see this as the inevitable result of a world where economic relationships are increasingly given more weight than ideological ones. Even leftists are starting to admit that Salinas is doing a masterful balancing act, assiduously cultivating contacts south of the Yucatan as well as north of the Rio Grande. Today, Salinas finishes up another powwow with the Group of Three (Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico) where further economic links are being discussed. And yesterday, Salinas was among the 13 Latin American and Caribbean heads of state comprising the Group of Rio. Topics included: restoring democracy in Haiti, bringing Cuba back into the Organization of American States, the narcotics battle, and regional trade integration. The Mexican president also convened the Group of Three in Cozumel, Mexico, in October to parley with Cuban President Fidel Castro. While Washington considers the Caribbean region under its sphere of influence, Latin Americans see it as their puddle too. "The Group of Three could be the bridge to resolve the problem between the US and Cuba," notes Julio Cesar Sanchez Garcia, Colombia's ambassador to Mexico. And in July, the Harvard-trained Salinas hosted the Ibero-Americana summit, bringing together for the first time the leaders of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. The summit excluded the US while providing President Castro with an international forum. Nor is Salinas just currying favor with Latin America. Last week, Salinas joined in the second annual gathering of the Group of 15 - a disparate bunch of developing nations. Salinas reconfirmed his support for the negotiations with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and reassured the group that Mexico wasn't creating a closed trading block with Canada and the US, but rather a new commercial dynamic which would benefit other regions as well. Pacific Basin ties are being nurtured too. Indonesian President Suharto paid his first visit last week. And sources in Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry were quoted last week as saying Mexico was a shoe-in for new membership in the nascent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization of 15 states. Of course, Mexico's economic recovery, its oil producer status, and its potentially barrier-free access to the US and Canadian markets may have something to do with its expected easy entree. There may be some fuming among Mexican intellectuals later this month when Salinas makes his third journey to the US this year. But it's not as if Mexico's president is putting all his eggs in Washington's basket.