[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Volume 55 / Social Sciences


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

AS REVOLUTION IN CENTRAL AMERICA is replaced in the headlines by the North American Free Trade Agreement, scholarly literature on Mexico?s international relations has gained considerably in output relative to that on Central America. Some of the most compelling work on Mexico places that country?s foreign policy in the context of broader changes in the international arena. As one example, the noted Mexican publishing house Fondo de Cultura Económica has published La política exterior de México en el nuevo orden mundial (item bi 94007882), a very extensive collection of essays stressing the impact of the end of the Cold War on the dynamics of Mexico?s international policies. In addition to its theoretical contributions, this volume provides one of the most comprehensive surveys of the full spectrum of bilateral issues facing post-Cold War Mexico. This theme of both the limitations and opportunities afforded Mexico by the changing international context is also reflected in Aguayo Quezada and Bagley's compilation on national security (in Spanish, item bi 93019106; in English, item bi 94007851), in which various authors revisit the concept of national security in the Mexican experience and address a number of specific manifestations, such as in the areas of refugees and narcotics.

While important contributions continue to be made in the traditional areas of balance of power, military relations, diplomatic initiatives, and the like, undoubtedly the preeminent concern of much of the current research on Mexican international relations lies in the economic arena. And the major initiative here has been the North American Free Trade Agreement. What was almost unthinkable in Mexico of the 1980s became a reality in the 1990s. Thus, an important component to the research agenda on NAFTA should be the political dynamics that made its ratification not only acceptable but surprisingly popular. Sadly, too much of the literature ignores the political dimensions of this crucial economic reform. One exception is the excellent article by Weintraub and Baer (item bi 92016351). In tackling the complexities of the linkages between economic and political reform, they begin by suggesting that the successes of the economic liberalization eventually will make possible the democratic reform of the political system. They also posit that the economic changes can be (and have been in Mexico) much more dramatic than the political openings. Other arguments to be explored here include the necessity for political concessions given the exhaustion of the postwar economic model as well as the external pressures for reform in both the economic and political arenas. In a somewhat more analytical piece, Peter Smith presents four different propositions regarding the impact of NAFTA on domestic politics in Mexico (item bi 93001612). Rather than reaching any definite conclusions, Smith urges students of Mexican politics to examine these contending theories in the context of empirical analysis.

Turning more specifically to the treaty itself, three noteworthy contributions should be highlighted. Robert Pastor has provided a very readable book concentrating on the negotiations on NAFTA through its signing by Bush, Salinas, and Mulroney in Dec. 1992 (item bi 94007897). The Mexican Secretary of Commerce has edited a surprisingly objective volume that focuses on the Mexican economic background to the push for NAFTA (item bi 93019124). This perspective is important for understanding the political and economic changes occurring during the Salinas Administration. Jaime Ros explains the growing popularity of economic integration in North America in terms of a "silent" integration that had already been drawing Mexico and the US closer, a new ideological climate, and the necessities of competing in the international economic marketplace of the 1990s (item bi 93021963).

A number of excellent publications have concentrated on the environmental components of NAFTA. Roberto Sánchez Rodríguez utilizes two case studies - drainage in Tijuana and San Diego and air pollution from smelting plants in Arizona and Sonora - to explore the bilateral negotiations on the environment (item bi 93019189). Kelly and her co-authors argue the salience of environmental issues which will arise predictably with the implementation of NAFTA (item bi 93008758). Finally, Vargas and Bauer contribute an edited book with the most extensive coverage on the full range of environmental issues arising from the Free Trade Agreement (item bi 94007878).

Two final areas of bilateral concerns along the US-Mexico border warrant recognition: immigration and narcotics. In a study commissioned by the US government (item bi 93019192), the authors focus on the "push" (or supply) side of the equation in arguing for the need for economic development in Mexico. Focusing on the changing characteristics of Mexican immigrants into the US, Wayne Cornelius provides a wealth of information on the demographics of the migrant workers and concludes that the United States' 1986 Immigration Reform Act has had little impact (item bi 93021401). On the difficult issue of narcotics, Reuter and Ronfeldt argue that results from law enforcement efforts are not as important as the "integrity" of the effort (item bi 94007864).

Sadly, Central America seems to receive considerable scholarly attention only when a case of US intervention has occurred; typically, this literature tends to be highly polemical. With the short-term success of peaceful negotiations to the military conflicts in Nicaragua and El Salvador, the most recent wave of writings has concentrated on Panama. The two most commendable contributions are relatively short treatises published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies: Falcoff and Millett predict a tenuous future for Panama as it strives for democratization (item bi 94000486) and contributors to a monograph edited by Eva Loser posit a negative impact on Panamanian political development from US ties (item bi 93003409). Utilizing the same theme of democratization but in a different national context, Joseph Tulchin has edited a book that cautiously suggests some of the key factors in any potential transition to a democratic regime in El Salvador (item bi 92015831).

Returning to the post-revolutionary regimes in Nicaragua, two books are noteworthy. William Robinson has written an exceptionally well-researched volume on US intervention in the 1990 elections (item bi 93019109). Exploring a somewhat earlier time period, Morris Morley takes a broader and somewhat more analytical perspective and reaches some provocative conclusions about continuity of US policy toward Nicaragua (item bi 94007852).

Finally, three books provide useful overviews of Central America. Jan Adams looks at international diplomacy toward Central America from the Soviet perspective during the Gorbachev years (item bi 94007823). In another commendable volume by Jack Child, the former US Army Latin American specialist stresses issues of verification and confidence-building in the ongoing peace process (item bi 92019127). And finally, John Coatsworth has integrated some of the best research on Central American history and written what may become the ultimate source on 20th-century Central American development (item bi 94007924).

Go to the:

Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (11/17/04)