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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA


ANDREW D. SELEE, Director Mexico Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC

BORDERS JOIN AND SEPARATE NATIONS, unite their cultures, and mark their uniqueness. As a result, there are few better places to observe the changing nature of the relationship between Latin America and the US than at the US-Mexico border. Several leading studies of this border have emerged during this review period, including a comprehensive history of the border region around northeastern Mexico that spans from the precolonial period to the present day (item #bi2006001805#). Several studies look at specific border-related issues: the impact of the smart-border accords (item #bi2004001603#), the challenges of shared water resources (item #bi2006001813#), and the emerging efforts at coordination in security policy among local law enforcement agencies (item #bi2006001808#). Another study traces demographic trends in the region over the last 50 years (item #bi2006002005#). Finally, one particularly innovative book is focused on narcocorridos (item #bi2007005003#), the ballads that chronicle life outside the law. The work captures well the nexus between culture, politics, and economics in drug trafficking at the border.

As Mexico has gravitated economically and strategically into North America, the Guatemala-Mexico border has also become increasingly important as a border between Latin America and North America. Two leading works on the dividing line between Central America and Mexico exemplify and reinforce this point by documenting how geopolitical changes often have surprising impacts on local life in the border region (items #bi2005002235# and #bi2006001843#).

Migration both creates interdependence among countries in the hemisphere and marks the differences and discontinuities. One landmark historical study of Central American refugees during the 1980s and 1990s analyzes how the Mexican, US, and Canadian governments responded differently to this influx, how the three governments influenced each other, and how nongovernmental networks influenced all three (item #bi2006002161#). Two major studies both in Spanish also address US-Mexican migration broadly (items #bi2006001829# and #bi2006001815#). In addition, the subject of transnationalism has risen in importance as scholars attempt to determine the degree to which migrants shape political and social life in their communities of origin as well as in their place of residence. Discussing this topic are two important works on Mexican migrants in New York (items #bi2007001764# and #bi2005002178#), an innovative study of indigenous migrants (item #bi2007001763#), a strong collection on remittances (item #bi2007001762#), and a study looking at "civic binationalism" among Mexican migrants (item #bi2007001754#).

There is a growing body of literature on the foreign policy of Mexico and, to a much lesser extent, Central American countries. Several volumes do particular credit to the complexity of Mexico's foreign policy and its multiple relationships not only with the US and Canada, but also with Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia (and to a much lesser degree, Africa). These include two comprehensive annual studies (items #bi2006001844# and #bi2006001847#) and two other collections (items #bi2006001848# and #bi2003003620#) that address Mexican foreign policy in a broad yet nuanced way.

Several comprehensive studies look at Mexico's relationship with its partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These include five major volumes that seek to assess the impact of NAFTA on Mexico and, in some cases, the other signatories of NAFTA. All are broad volumes and highly analytical, but they reach very different conclusions (items #bi2007001755#, #bi2007001756#, #bi2007001758#, #bi2007001757#, and #bi2007001759#). In addition, one well-researched article addresses the impact of the side agreement on environmental compliance and the influence of NGOs on policy (item #bi2005001839#) and another work offers a history that sheds light on attempts by the Mexican and Canadian government to reduce their dependence on the US for decades prior to signing NAFTA (item #bi2006001867#). One of the most striking works is a book by a journalist who captures in text and photos the often-untold costs of economic integration and the growth of cross-border solidarity networks to address labor issues (item #bi2004002256#). Even those who may disagree with the author's premise of the failure of NAFTA will find the stories striking and the analysis thought-provoking.

The US-Mexico relationship receives specific treatment in several volumes, including a comprehensive history (item #bi2007001761#). Three noteworthy works seek to understand the role that perceptions play in the relationship (item #bi2007001751#), the nature of journalistic coverage (item #bi2007001753#), and creative options for policy cooperation (item #bi2007001752#). Similarly a number of studies analyze Mexico's relationship with other parts of the world, including several solid studies on the trade accord and strategic relationship with the European Union (items #bi2004002264#, #bi2006001803#, and #bi2005002650#). Two excellent histories trace Mexico's relationship with Spain (items #bi2006001856# and #bi2006001849#). Another innovative history addresses Mexico's relationship with Italy under Mussolini and shows the points of convergence—and eventual divergence—between two countries living through very different political upheavals (item #bi2006001862#). One article masterfully covers the sweep of German-Mexican relations throughout a 200-year period (item #bi2004002256#). Similarly, the Caribbean receives much needed treatment from Mexican foreign policy analysts in two articles (items #bi2006001818# and #bi2003006885#).

Analysis on Central American foreign policy is much less developed during this period, but some publications deserve mention. On Guatemala, an ambitious volume by a leading novelist seeks to understand the history of Guatemalan foreign policy (item #bi2006001876#) and an innovative article looks at US policy towards Guatemala in the period after a CIA-backed coup overthrew President Jacobo Arbenz (item #bi2003002012#). Two works look at the early years of negotiations between Panama and the US over the Canal Treaty (items #bi2006001842# and #bi2006001825#). Economic issues, and particularly the free trade agreement between the Central American countries and the US, are the subjects of several works as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was under discussion during this period. One Inter-American Development Bank study has useful data on integration within Central America (item #bi2006001812#), but most other volumes focus on the CAFTA negotiations themselves and are aimed at influencing the debate in this process (items #bi2006001837# and #bi2006001857#).

Finally, NGOs are receiving increasing recognition as important actors in international relations. Several works mentioned above have focused on the role that migrant organizations (item #bi2007001754#), environmental NGOs (item #bi2005001839#), and journalists (item #bi2007001753#) play, though generally within the context of broader policy debates. In addition, one study examines the role of civic organizations in the US-Mexico relationship (item #bi2007001760#) and two studies focus on the specific role the human rights movement has played in shaping policy in Mexico (item #bi2006001829#) and El Salvador (item #bi2005004666#), the latter focused specifically on religious organizations. The growth of academic scholarship focused on nongovernmental actors shows the increasing recognition that nation-states are not the only actors in international relations, and in a globalizing world we need to look at both the way governments interact with each other and how they are shaped by other organized groups that lay claim to political influence.


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