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Volume 57 / Social Sciences

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA


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


WITH THE DEMISE OF THE COLD WAR and the concomitant security concerns in Central America, the literature on this region’s international relations has become both less strident and prolific. Not surprisingly, issues concerning US military operations and national security continue to be of critical importance to scholars and publishers. Hence, many studies issued this biennium have focused on the US invasion of Panama - the first use of military force after the Cold War - and fears about the Canal’s vulnerability.

In an important article, Max Manwaring argues that the domestic dynamics of Panamanian development take precedence over concerns about international threats to the Canal. He believes that emphasizing political and economic stability in Panama would more effectively safeguard the Canal than would strict military protection (item bi 97012466). In another study, Eytan Gilboa, like Manwaring, contends that international geo-political objectives are less salient than regional, bilateral, and national priorities (item bi 96005649). Mark Falcoff’s study, however, questions Panama’s ability as a sovereign nation to maintain and administer the Canal (item bi 98007172). Falcoff argues that the final transfer of authority to Panama in 1999 will leave a potentially dangerous vacuum of experience and administrative acumen.

Studies of other Central American nations have focused on the aftermath of negotiated peace pacts emphasizing themes of consolidation, integration, and democratization. Olivier Dabene has stipulated that the short-term resolution to the Central American “crisis” of the 1980s has strengthened efforts for regional integration in the 1990s (item bi 96005792). While this current emphasis on cooperation and regionalism may ultimately be no more successful than earlier efforts, at least these initiatives are occurring in a much more optimistic environment. Karen Ponciano Castellanos’ well-documented and thorough examination of the peace processes in El Salvador and Guatemala avoids such sweeping predictions (item bi 97003340). This empirical and historical work arrives at more broadly applicable conclusions regarding the consolidation of peace and stability. Terry Karl (item bi 94015710) and Ian Johnstone (item bi 95004614) focus on the most significant issue in regard to El Salvador - the peace pact of 1992 that ended approximately 12 years of internal conflict. Karl discusses several factors that insured the success of negotiations to end the civil strife: the apparent military stalemate between government and rebels, the willingness, by both sides, to compromise, and the effect of international pressure by multilateral actors such as the UN. On the latter point, Johnstone discusses the United Nations’ success in promoting the 1992 accord and in maintaining peace in the area. Johnstone, a former UN official, argues that external organizations are necessary because they help opposing parties initiate and reach successful negotiations.

Richard Millett, a preeminent scholars of Central America, cautions against over-optimistic predictions regarding the future of peace and democracy in the region (item bi 94010291). Millett maintains that conditions of marginalization and poverty - the foundations of the conflicts - still exist today. The current period of relative peace and stability, he argues, may be short-lived unless measures are implemented that will permanently resolve the region-wide problem of socioeconomic disparity.

Much of the literature on Mexico continues to focus on postwar bilateral issues between the US and Mexico. The foremost concerns involve trade in general, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in particular. Because of NAFTA’s recent implementation, debate and discussion tend to revolve around the trade agreement’s more immediate repercussions. Sidney Weintraub, a leading scholar of US-Mexico economic relations, advances a moderate prognosis regarding NAFTA’s consequences (item bi 96011829). He argues that although the agreement is a positive step, it will not bring immediate prosperity to Mexico. Weintraub reaches similar conclusions in his essential monograph, NAFTA at Three (item bi 97002818). Though he foresees a number of positive outcomes from NAFTA (some job creation, an increase in trade, and others), he cautions against judging NAFTA prematurely or expecting from it too much. Unlike the European Community, NAFTA is not an economic and monetary union, and its long-term consequences remain unknown.

Other authors explore graver concerns stemming from implementation of the agreement and examine its potential long-term consequences. Edward Williams argues that the economic infrastructure, particularly along the Mexico-US border region, cannot support the increased economic activity generated by the agreement. He asserts that this economic surge will exert a negative impact on both nations (item bi 96024771). Williams also discusses potential environmental and public health concerns. Carol Zabin and Sallie Hughes argue that increased Mexican migration to the US will be an unintended and costly result of NAFTA (item bi 95021599). According to these authors, an expanded Mexican agricultural export market will produce increased levels of internal migration toward northern Mexico; migration that will ultimately spill-over into the US.

The illegal drug trade, a topic once shunned by scholars, now appears prominently as a subject of serious study. More studies than ever are appearing that analyze drug policy of both Mexico and the US. Timothy Dunn’s important work critiques US policy on both immigration and narcotics issues (item bi 96006351). Dunn argues that US efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration and narcotics have led to a counter-productive militarization of the US-Mexico border region. Using the image of a US military helicopter hovering above undocumented Mexican workers, Dunn applies the theory of low-intensity conflict to the manner in which the United States fulfills its policy objectives. Two Mexican authors provide a more dispassionate analysis of anti-narcotics efforts. José Maria Ramos describes US efforts to halt the import of drugs from Mexico, and examines both social and political contexts of drug trafficking and policies designed to combat it (item bi 96170067). Maria Celia Toro has written an excellent overview of Mexico’s drug market and its anti-drug policies (item bi 95025109). She reminds us that Mexico, a country with a relatively low level of domestic narcotics consumption, expends disproportionately high levels of economic resources and police and military efforts to enforce anti-drug policies.

Luis G. Zorrilla presents a rare, far-encompassing analysis of Mexico’s international relations, detailing the evolution of Mexican foreign policy since the 1840s (item bi 96021918). The chronological organization of Zorrilla’s exceptional multi-volume work facilitates a reader’s understanding of the bilateral and multilateral relationships and predominant issues of each era.


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