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Volume 59 / Social Sciences

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA


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


THE LITERATURE ON MEXICAN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, in particular, has become more voluminous in recent years, displaying as well a higher quality analysis and methodology. Consequently, it is more difficult than ever to focus on a small number of works as the biennium's major contributions to scholarship. An increasing shift in the publications reviewed is a recognition of the "new international political order" in the aftermath of the Cold War. Many authors see this development as a keen opportunity and a qualitative, historical turning point in terms of Mexico's role in the international arena. While the US remains the focus of attention for Mexico, there is a growing sense of globalism and an increasing stress on multilateralism.

One of the most impressive studies along these lines is the compilation published by the Instituto Matías Romero de Estudios Diplomáticos (item #bi 98008509#). Numerous authors evaluate current Mexican foreign policy with a view toward greater internationalization. The general conclusion is that a multipronged approach by Mexico in international affairs will reduce potential tensions with its traditional partner, the US, and actually increase cooperation with that country. The authors also recognize a shift in the role of domestic actors influencing Mexican foreign policy in this new era of globalism. Lustig provides a comparative, case-study analysis of this phenomenon (item #bi 98005370#). She contrasts the financial rescue packages extended by the US to Mexico in the early 1980s and again in the mid-1990s. Her comparison can be seen as a "before and after" look at the changes in the international sphere. She focuses on the lack of success, particularly the denial of Mexican access to private loan markets in the 1980s with a more cooperative and positive relationship in the financial markets in the 1990s.

Several broadly theoretical pieces are clearly worth noting. In a poignant and possibly predictive article, the noted Mexican scholar and eventual Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda argued that an "American-provided net has allowed Mexico's authorities to fail miserably yet remain in power" (p. 104) (item #bi 97008589#). Castañeda provided a telling criticism of the PRI-led decades of government, which he claimed had not only led Mexico to several near collapses, but also subjected the nation to the humiliation of constant appeals to the US for assistance. In a more positive approach, Kaufman Purcell focuses on the confluence of interests between Mexico and the US and emphasizes the role of domestic political actors in each nation (item #bi 97006957#). As a consequence, she fears that the democratization of Mexico may well serve to complicate relations between the two neighbors, at least in the short term.

Two important monographs should be recognized as essential reference guides. Aguayo has provided content analysis of almost 7,000 articles on Mexico from the New York Times in the post-World War II era (1946–86) (item #bi 99006532#). The author places journalistic reporting within the broad contexts of historical periods and theoretical constructs. In addition, Suarez Arguello has written an indispensable guide to all 52 US ambassadors to Mexico from Joel Poinsett (1825) through John Negroponte (1989) (item #bi 00001494#). She not only provides specific information regarding each ambassador, but places their roles and contributions in the context of the major issues, policies, and problems of the particular era.

The preeminent bilateral issue of the latter 20th and early 21st century—the North American Free Trade Agreement—understandably is the focus of several major publications. Von Bertrad explores the process of NAFTA negotiations from the perspective of a participant (item #bi 98008519#). This insider's view is a useful addition to our understanding of the politics on both sides of the border. Urquidi emphasizes the significance of environmental issues to NAFTA (item #bi 98015916#). He attempts to reverse the typical ranking of commercial concerns over environmental concerns. This prioritizing is especially intriguing as it comes from a Mexican perspective. In a piece centering on "market-friendly" economic issues, De Long et al. attempt to debunk criticisms of the free trade and free enterprise premise of NAFTA (item #bi 97008591#). While recognizing the potential for delay in the short term, the authors argue for the benefits to Mexican development from NAFTA (and related initiatives) in the long run.

One can derive from the literature that Central America has lost significance in terms of international priorities and concerns. In previous decades, beginning with the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979, Central American had received political and scholarly attention disproportionate to its size. Even today, many publications continue to analyze the period of Sandinista revolt and general upheaval throughout the region. In a readable volume, Busby provides a case study of executive branch policy-making and intrigue as he examines the "Iran-Contra Affair" (item #bi 99006529#). While providing interesting perspectives on the regional conflict and its role in international relations, this book is more concerned with understanding presidential politics in the US as a popular president (Ronald Reagan) confronts charges of scandal. One example of the remnants of ideological divisions over US policy toward Nicaragua is the journalistic study by Gary Webb, examining alleged US complicity in drug trafficking vis-à-vis the Contras (item #bi 99006508#). Webb wrote most of this volume in the summer of 1996 for a US newspaper (the San Jose Mercury News), as he attempted to substantiate a link between illegal drugs in South Central Los Angeles and the Reagan administration's financial support of Contras' in their fight against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Scott carries the analysis of Reagan's policy in Nicaragua even further by studying the conflict between the executive and legislative branches (item #bi 97014371#). The author divides this foreign policy debate into three stages that illuminates the complexity of the interactions. At various times, the influence of the respective governmental branches ebbed and flowed, with each not only pitted against the other but also divided into various internal factions. Ultimately, the author concludes that US policy toward Nicaragua provides an excellent illustration of how "complex and messy" foreign policy can become.

Another continuation of the event-driven analysis of Central America remains the US involvement in Panama (particularly the US operation in/invasion of that country in the late 1980s). A publication that retains significance partially due to the background of the various authors (ranging from the Panamanian foreign minister to the US ambassador) is the compilation of a 1996 conference discussing the continuation of US military bases in Panama. In many ways, the debate marks the culmination of the century-long involvement of the US in that Central American nation. An obviously biased, though still useful, publication is the US Marine Corps "official" version of the events surrounding Operation "Just Cause" operation/invasion. This slickly produced volume provides a particular perspective to the events surrounding the US' successful effort to arrest Panamanian leader/dictator Noriega.

Finally, a number of efforts to examine Central America's role in Latin America and in the broader international milieu are noteworthy. Ardon provides a useful summary of the Central American conflict—albeit one intended for a general audience (item #bi 99006531#). Bye utilizes over 200 interviews with participants to provide a journalistic account of the Central American conflict during the 1980s (item #bi 99006506#). McBride's article offers the most theoretical and methodological work exploring US immigration policy in the context of the Central American crisis (item #bi 99007544#). He makes a distinction between immigrants (reflecting US domestic economic concerns) and those seeking asylum (influenced by greater foreign policies).

The works mentioned here are the few exceptions to a lingering tendency to treat Central America as an ideological battleground. The need is pressing for the literature on the region to move toward a more global perspective—as is being done increasingly in the analysis of Mexican foreign policy and international relations.


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