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Volume 51 / Social Sciences


DALE STORY, Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, University of Texas at Arlington

SEVERAL PREDOMINANTLY NEGATIVE FACTORS REMAIN CONSTANT regarding the literature on the international relations of Mexico and Central America. First, the volume of works on Central America continues to outpace (by over two-to-one) that on Mexico. By almost all accounts, this ratio is unjustified. Mexico is larger (in terms of land, population, and economy) and more advanced than the nations of Central America combined. Mexico is closest to the "Colossus of the North" and has potentially as many stability problems as does Central America. Yet, dictated largely by US foreign policy priorities, the attention of the literature (especially from the US) remains riveted on Central America. Secondly, the bulk of the writing remains largely rhetorical or ideological at worst and only prescriptive or descriptive at best: few authors are attempting to explain events and behavior by applying or refining theoretical models, empirical analyses, and conceptual frameworks. Thirdly, virtually none of the literature is genuinely comparative, i.e., few authors use either historical or cross-national comparisons that would further our understanding of foreign policy and international relations in the region.

Ironically, despite the sheer weight of the writings on Central America, one has to dig deepest here to uncover worthwhile works. As has been stated before, the quality of the publications does not match their quantity. Probably the most outstanding exception to these criticisms is Elizabeth Ferris' extremely well-written book (item bi 91001512) comparing regional policies toward Central American refugees without the typical ideological barrage. Its most significant element is its comparative perspective contrasting the independent tradition of Mexico, the neutrality pressures on Costa Rica, the more dependent stance of Honduras, and the dominance of the US.

Though not a work of original research, one of the best introductions to the six principal nations of Central America and to the international and domestic challenges facing the region is Helen Schooley's book (item bi 88000060), which presents the basic facts, the spectrum of major actors, and the various sides of the pressing issues in a very balanced manner. The peace proposals prior to the Arias Plan are analyzed, and a very useful appendix of major documents is included. This may be the best available overview of the region for first-time readers, as well as a useful reference guide for experts on the region.

Two edited volumes on the region deserve attention: Crisis in Central America (edited by Nora Hamilton et al., item bi 88000095) and Confronting Revolution (edited by Norris Blachman et al., item bi 88002033). Both works take the same general approach: that external military pressure is counterproductive and only an endogenous political solution will lead to a long-term resolution of the conflict. The Hamilton book is considerably shorter and also noticeably more critical of Reagan policies in the region, while the Blachman volume provides a more diversified analysis that better recognizes the complexities, competing interests, and dynamics of the region.

The material on Central America includes three articles that provide a somewhat more focused exploration of the issues. The question of international linkages with the Sandinista regime continues to be a major issue, and the Berrios article (item bi 88000476) gives a very objective analysis of Nicaraguan economic ties to the Eastern bloc nations. McDonald and Tamrowski's piece (item bi 91001545) is a good example of establishing the appropriate goals but falling short of meeting them. Their laudable goal is actual hypothesis testing, in this case to determine whether technological advances have increased the likehood for revolutionary activity; however, the descriptive mode of analysis is incomplete and unconvincing. Finally, Richard Millett (item bi 88002614) expands the analytical horizons beyond Nicaragua and El Salvador into Panama. This will undoubtedly be the first of many examinations of the "Noriega problem" in Central America.

While most of the research on Central America comes from US scholars reacting to US policy, much of the best work on Mexican international relations emanates from within that country. More specifically, El Colegio de Mexico and its respected journal Foro Internacional (FI) are the best sources of analyses on Mexican foreign policy. The monograph edited by Gerardo Bueno (item bi 88002921) is the most recent annual summary by El Colegio on US-Mexico relations, and includes several very interesting essays on the impact of the media on bilateral relations. Two insightful pieces from FI are the articles by Lindau (item bi 91001327) and Franco Hijuelos (item bi 91001318). Narcotics trafficking is becoming one of the most controversial issues in bilateral ties, and the Lindau analysis of the Camarena case explores an important case study in this emerging relation. Franco Hijuelos examines a critical issue in the economic arena: Mexico is at present the only nation to sell its natural petroleum resources to the US strategic reserve.

Two additional Mexican scholars focus on the full range of Mexican foreign policy. Mario Ojeda (item bi 91001336) documents the so-called "active" phase of Mexico's international relations beginning with Echeverría's tercer mundista stance, continuing with López Portillo's use of petroleum as a bargaining tool, and concluding with the early De la Madrid years of an aggressive Central American policy. Modesto Seara Vázquez (item bi 91001346) has written the most complete, albeit largely descriptive, presentation of the panoply of issues pertaining to Mexican international relations. This "textbook" perspective, now in its third edition, warrants an English translation and distribution to a US audience.

Several research efforts by US scholars have made major contributions to the field of Mexican international relations. George Grayson (item bi 91001322) has continued his excellent studies of Mexican petroleum politics by placing petroleum exports in the context of Mexico's foreign policy goals. Another worthwhile case study is Alan Lamborr and Stephen Mumme's book on the El Chamizal dispute (item bi 91001325), which is particularly significant for its theoretical framework for the analysis of this territorial conflict. Along these lines, a research article by David Mares (item bi 88002548) attempts to provide "causal factors" and testable hypotheses relating to Mexican foreign policy, specifically toward Nicaragua. Unfortunately, like the McDonald and Tamrowski article, Mares' research fails in terms of its methodological approach.

The most recent book, and undoubtedly soon to be one of the most popular on Mexico-US relations published north of the border, is Riordan Roett's edited volume (item bi 88002911). The coverage is extensive and timely (including pieces on the most recent controversy over drugs), and the authors are among the most notable scholars from the US and Mexico. Yet the book suffers from the malaise of almost all edited works: the various articles are not well integrated and a common theme or theoretical framework is lacking. Thus, the international relations literature published in the US remains void of an exhaustive and well-organized treatment of bilateral Mexico-US relations.

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