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Volume 61 / Social Sciences


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

AFTER MANY YEARS of an ideological bent to the literature on both Mexico and Central America (mostly stemming from the debate over US policy in Central America), much more objective and well-reasoned discussions of issues are now available for the region. Along with the move away from ideology, the trend is toward a greater focus on economic topics. In the context of Mexico, even considerations of the domestic politics of democratization are linked to international economic initiatives. In Central America, among the central concerns reflected in much of the literature are economic issues, ranging from regional integration to immigration.

A very significant addition to the literature is the anthology by Lajous and Torres summarizing the challenges of Mexican foreign policy in the 1990s (item #bi2002002746#). This is a major contribution in the argument linking economic development to political outcomes—specifically economic reform and democratization. The authors cover the political issues of human rights, freedom, and democracy—in addition to the traditional topics of migration and drugs. Additionally, they examine the role that other countries and regions play in the panorama of Mexican foreign policy.

A somewhat more readable treatment of US-Mexico relations is provided by Astie-Burgos, who examines the swinging pendulum of this bilateral relationship between "cooperation and disagreement" (item #bi2002002731#). The historical context explores the end of the Cold War and its impact on conservative pressures emanating from the US in the 1980s. While the most significant topic analyzed here is the Central American conflict, the author approaches the subject of Mexican and US differences from a laudably dispassionate perspective.

De la Garza and Velasco have edited a volume that examines the historical role of Mexico and its many interactions with the US political system (item #bi2002002725#). Beginning with the Mexican Revolution, the discussion concludes with the new Mexican foreign policy of the 1990s. Not only do the authors examine the foreign policy outcomes, but they admirably provide insights to the political negotiations at the core of these international issues.

Though not providing the linkages with political issues, the volume by Leycegui is still a useful evaluation of NAFTA after its first five years (item #bi2002002746#). This macroeconomic study looks at disaggregated impacts of the trade agreement—from foreign investment to specific sectors (such as automobile, textile, and financial). The work includes an examination of the effects of the trade agreement in different geographic regions.

Also noteworthy is Hart's informative and readable historical depiction and analysis of US involvement in Mexico (item #bi2004003197#). He looks at the US presence in Mexico from the 1870s up to the present. And he presents an even-handed perspective—arguing that US policy reflects periods of both intervention as well as accommodation. Finally, he posits that US positions and approaches in Mexico can be viewed as a microcosm of the larger US view of the world.

In the Central American literature, three pieces are particularly important and noteworthy—with two of them focusing on the oft-neglected nation of Costa Rica. In the recent historical context of the turmoil of Central America, Costa Rica has been too often omitted from political and economic analysis. Yet, it remains one of the most intriguing, if not significant, countries in the region.

In a book that focuses primarily on economic outcomes, Gutiérrez Góngora explores the potential for the integration of Costa Rica in the international economic system (though realistically the attention is really on the Central American and Caribbean region) (item #bi2002002729#). The author laments a decline in Costa Rican purchasing power, though the comparison is with several Asian nations and could be questioned in terms of more differences than similarities. Nonetheless, the author meticulously examines the possibilities for greater development in Costa Rica via regional economic integration plans.

In an edited volume by Jimenez Porras et al., the many authors recognize the important role of Costa Rica in the region and analyze the past 50 years of development in that nation as well as project the prospects for the next 50 years (item #bi2002003111#). The central theme is the necessity for greater institutional reform (ranging from education to the economic system) in order to improve the overall quality of life.

Finally, Ruiz Marrujo returns to a common theme—illegal immigration—using the case study of the Mexican-Guatemalan border (item #bi2002004075#). In particular, the author emphasizes the risks involved in this "industry" of cross-border and illegal migrations. One can see many analogies in this study with the more numerous projects that examine the flow of immigrants from Mexico to the US. As such, it provides a further comparative study to our understanding of the push and pull factors of illegal immigration.

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