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Mexico: Relations with the United States
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Foreign Relations > Relations with the United States

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.

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.

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




Last Updated: June 1996


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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