Mexico Relations with the United States
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
The principles of Mexican foreign policy are respect for international law and the judicial equality of states, respect for the sovereignty and independence of nations, nonintervention in the domestic affairs of other countries, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and the promotion of collective security through participation in international organizations. Traditionally, Mexico's foreign policy has been considered leftist, prorevolutionary, and nationalistic. Demonstrating independence from United States foreign policy, Mexico supported the Cuban government during the 1960s, the Sandinista (see Glossary) revolution in Nicaragua during the late 1970s, and leftist revolutionary groups in El Salvador during the 1980s.
Mexico has played a minor role in international affairs through most of its history. Since the mid-nineteenth century, Mexican foreign policy has focused primarily on the United States, its northern neighbor, largest trading partner, and the most powerful actor in hemispheric and world affairs. Mexico's role in international affairs was limited until the 1970s, mainly because of the country's need to concentrate on domestic issues, particularly on internal stability and economic growth.
The discovery of vast petroleum reserves during the 1970s, however, placed Mexico in the forefront of oil producers and exporters. Mexico soon became the principal supplier of oil to the United States after the 1973 energy crisis. The heavy inflow of dollars contributed to changing Mexico's perceptions of its role in world affairs while increasing its potential of becoming an important regional power. Mexico has maintained an independent oil policy, however, refusing to join the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) during the 1970s, but participating in the Organization of Latin American Petroleum Exporting Countries (OLAPEC) during the 1980s.
Beginning with the presidency of Luis Echeverría (1970-76), Mexico developed and implemented a more independent and assertive foreign policy. Following an activist policy independent of the United States, the Echeverría government asserted Mexico's position as a leader in the developing world's affairs, particularly on discussions for establishing a new international economic order as part of the so-called "North-South Dialogue." The Echeverría administration boycotted the General Assembly meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1973 to protest the military coup in Chile that deposed the popularly elected government of Salvador Allende Gossens and suspended diplomatic relations with Chile and South Africa because of these governments' human rights violations. The Mexican government frequently criticized United States foreign policy for favoring military regimes throughout the Third World. Most distinctively, Mexico adopted an aggressive role as a leader within Latin America in concerted efforts to adopt a unified position in regional relations against the United States.
During the late 1970s, Mexico broke diplomatic relations with the Somoza regime in Nicaragua on the advent of the Sandinista revolution and in 1980 joined Venezuela in the San José Accords, providing favorable trade conditions for oil supply to the depressed economies of Caribbean and Central American countries. In 1983 Mexico was instrumental in the establishment of the Contadora (see Glossary) Group, a diplomatic effort by four regional governments (Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela) to present a Latin American solution to the crisis in Central America. The document developed by the Contadora Group was instrumental in the final Central American Peace Plan (see The United States and the Crisis in Mexico, ch. 1).
During the Salinas administration, the central theme of Mexican foreign policy became free trade, especially NAFTA. Mexico focused on bilateral discussions with countries within the hemisphere in an effort to improve trade and investment potential. By 1994 it had signed free-trade agreements with Venezuela and Colombia (effective January 1, 1995) as well as with Bolivia. Under President Salinas, Mexican nationalism was redefined as "progressive nationalism," or the pursuit of economic development while strengthening Mexico's international role. Salinas felt that national independence demanded that Mexico effectively insert itself into the international market. In the mid-1990s, President Ernesto Zedillo continued to stress Mexico's strategic position and market potential worldwide.
Relations with the United States
Throughout its history, Mexico has had an ambivalent love-hate relationship with its northern neighbor. Nationalist rhetoric continuously highlights the loss of one-half of Mexico's territory and natural resources to the United States in the 1800s. Even at times when United States-Mexican relations have been at their best, this loss is still present in Mexican rhetoric. During the Rio Group summit in September 1994, for example, President Salinas commented on the United Nations-sponsored United States intervention in Haiti, "Having suffered an external intervention by the United States, in which we lost more than half of our territory, Mexico cannot accept any proposal for intervention by any nation of the region." In economic terms, good relations with the United States have long been critical for Mexico, given that its northern neighbor is its principal trading partner, both for exports and imports. For its part, the United States gives serious consideration to its relations with Mexico because of Mexico's strategic location on the United States southern border as well as the fact that Mexico has the largest oil deposits in Latin America.
Relations between the countries often have been characterized by conflict. Analysts attribute much of the antagonism to the great disparities in wealth between the two countries; a history of intervention by the United States that makes Mexico highly critical and suspicious of United States positions; cultural differences and stereotypes of both nations; and the high levels of interdependence on many socioeconomic and political issues, both at the national level and in border areas.
In the past, Mexico defied the United States on a number of crucial hemispheric issues. Mexico never broke relations with the Cuban communist regime as did the rest of Latin America in the early 1960s. During President Echeverría's sexenio , Mexico took a leading role in demands for a new international economic order. During the 1970s, Mexico challenged the United States position in Central America and led a concerted regional effort that excluded the United States to bring a peaceful end to regional conflicts. During the 1980s, Mexico was highly critical of United States policy in El Salvador and, along with the French government, called for formal recognition of the Salvadoran guerrillas in the peace process.
The most important bilateral issues in the 1990s are drugs, trade, and illegal immigration into the United States. Drug trafficking is a pressing issue for both Mexico, as a producer and point of entry of the drug trade from South America into the United States drug market, and the United States, as a major consumer. Mexico insists that the trafficking of drugs would not exist without the enormous and growing market in the United States, thus placing responsibility on its northern neighbor. Nevertheless, the corruption and crime provoked by the growing drug business in Mexico have led the Mexican government to take domestic antidrug measures. The Salinas government launched a massive military campaign to counter the threat posed by the narcotics trade within the country. In 1989 Mexico signed a cooperation agreement with the United States on fighting the illegal drug trade (see President Salinas, ch. 1). Mexico's position on drug trafficking consists of two major contentions: Mexico will make a good-faith effort to eradicate the production and trade of drugs, and it will not, under any circumstances, allow the consolidation of narcotics groups within its territory. Currently, Mexico has a large portion of its army involved in the government's drug eradication program (see Narcotics Trafficking, ch. 5).
Trade between the two nations remains an important issue. A trade and environmental agreement signed in late 1989 paved the way for an expansion of bilateral trade and investment with the United States. In 1990 Mexico began negotiations over NAFTA with the United States and Canada. The main objective of NAFTA was to remove all trade barriers and investment obstacles among the three countries over a fifteen-year period. Negotiations concluded in 1992, and NAFTA was approved in 1993. The agreement was activated on January 1, 1994, creating the world's richest and largest trading bloc, consisting of 360 million consumers in a US$6.6 trillion market (see Foreign Trade, ch. 3).
A third pressing issue between the two countries continues to be illegal immigration of Mexicans into the United States. By the mid-1990s, this issue occupied center stage in United States-Mexican relations. Since the 1960s, the number of Mexican illegal immigrants into the United States has soared to an average of 300,000 to 500,000 per year. These groups are concentrated in the southwestern states of the United States, especially California. Although NAFTA may help to decrease this trend in the long run, the presence of a large number of illegal residents in the United States--many of whom benefit from local and federal programs--triggered a legislative proposal in 1995 in the state of California to deprive these groups of any United States government support. In particular, legislation in the state of California has revived anti-United States feelings among Mexicans.
Data as of June 1996
NOTE: The information regarding Mexico on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Mexico Relations with the United States information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Mexico Relations with the United States should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.