Juan R. García
The Bracero Program began in 1942 as a temporary wartime measure but was extended repeatedly until 1964. During that time, more than 4.5 million braceros received contracts to work in the United States, primarily as agricultural laborers. Before the program ended, braceros worked in thirty-eight states in the United States, with the majority contracted by eight states.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941 and the subsequent sinking of two Mexican vessels by German submarines, Mexico and the United States entered into a bilateral agreement. In actuality, there were two bilateral agreements, the first extending from 1942 to 1949, and the second, enacted as Public Law 78, starting in 1951 and culminating in 1964. Throughout the program’s existence Mexico strove to ensure favorable conditions under which braceros were to be contracted, especially in light of the strong opposition to the program among a number of sectors in Mexico and the long history of discrimination against people of Mexican descent in the United States. Like Mexico, the United States faced opposition to the contract labor program from both employers and labor unions. Employers were wary of too much government interference in their ability to secure a plentiful and cheap labor supply, while labor unions viewed the program as a threat to organizing efforts and as an obstacle to achieving better working conditions and pay for agricultural workers in the United States. The Bracero Program also deeply affected the braceros themselves in both positive and negative ways. And it had a profound impact on the families of the braceros who left to work in the United States. The program was plagued by a number of issues and problems, primarily resulting from a lack of enforcement and widespread contract violations. Despite the problems associated with the program, both countries touted its benefits, not only to their economy, but to the braceros themselves. The braceros did not passively accept their fate and challenged their treatment in a variety of ways. Although the Bracero Program ended in 1964, its legacy continues to affect US–Mexican relations to this day. Furthermore, former braceros and their descendants have undertaken a movement to demand reimbursement for wages promised them under the requirements of the Bracero Program.
The drug trade in Mexico and efforts by the Mexican government—often with United States assistance—to control the cultivation, sale, and use of narcotics are largely 20th-century phenomena. Over time, U.S. drug control policies have played a large role in the scope and longevity of Mexico’s drug trade. Many argue that these policies—guided by the U.S.-led global war on drugs—have been fruitless in Mexico, and are at least partially responsible for the violence and instability seen there in the early twentieth century.
A producer of Cannabis sativa and the opium poppy, Mexico emerged as a critical place of drug supply following World War II, even though domestic drug use in Mexico has remained low. Since the 1960s and 1970s, the drug trade in Mexico has reached epic proportions due to drug demand emanating from the United States. Mexico’s cultivation of psychoactive raw materials and its prime location—connecting North America with Central America and the Caribbean and sharing a 2,000-mile-long border with the United States—have made it an ideal transit point for narcotics originating from other parts of the Western Hemisphere and the world. Although Mexico implemented a smaller, less organized antidrug campaign in the late 1940s, the inauguration of the global war on drugs in 1971 represents a distinctive shift in its drug control and enforcement policies. The government began utilizing U.S. supply-control models, advice, and aid to decrease the cultivation of drugs inside the country. America’s fight against drug trafficking in Central America and the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s shifted the geographic locus of the drug trade to Mexico by the early 2000s. Mexico’s powerful drug cartels proved more than capable of eluding (sometimes colluding with) the Mexican government’s efforts against them in the first decade of the 21st century during the administration of President Felipe Calderón (2006–2012). Calderón’s fight against the cartels brought about a drug war in Mexico, characterized by widespread violence, instability, and an estimated death toll of more than 70,000 people.
Amelia M. Kiddle
During the Mexican Revolution and the long period of reconstruction that followed, successive Mexican presidents navigated the stormy seas of international relations. Though forced to manage repeated cases of foreign intervention in its internal affairs, the government actually enjoyed considerable freedom of action during and after the Revolution because of the world historical context. From the First World War to the Second, heightened tensions and mounting international conflicts worldwide diverted the attention of foreign governments and enabled skillful Mexican diplomats to take advantage of world conditions to advance their own agendas for international relations and domestic reform on the international stage as they sought to establish Mexico’s place within the international states system, and world history, as the first social revolution of the 20th century.
Friedrich E. Schuler
Mexican elites emerging out of the political civil wars of the 19th century threw their support behind French positivism and its theory that a nation could thrive through economic, industrial, and foreign-financed development. The strategy’s very success created the profound economic dislocations that triggered regional revolutions in Mexico’s center and north. Foreign observers misread these events as small rebellions and acted accordingly.
In this environment Francisco Madero became Mexico’s first democratic president. Even though he leaned toward the United States, he pleased no foreign and domestic faction and was deposed and murdered by a domestic-foreign element. Emerging dictator Victoriano Huerta perplexed all foreign observers. As US president Woodrow Wilson made fighting against Huerta’s tenure a symbol of an idealistic new policy, Canadian, European, and Latin American governments picked Venustiano Carranza at the Conference of Niagara Falls to be his successor.
The new context of World War I interrupted all of Mexico’s bilateral economic relations. The country’s national revolutions became side theaters of the global war. By 1918 the collapse of empires had changed all politicians’ outlooks.
The 1920s were dominated by strife with the Vatican and US laissez-faire policy but also pragmatic US-Mexican border relations steered by President Abelardo Rodriguez.
During the Great Depression, Mexico attempted to avoid importing food. US artists, tourists, and Europeans were inspired by Mexico’s murals and social justice movements for peasants. After 1934 Lazaro Cardenas steered these policies to the left; in 1938 he expropriated US, British, and Dutch-owned oil companies as well as US agrarian property.
After 1940 government technocrats under Ávila Camacho turned the country toward exploiting the Allies’ economic war needs. World War II found Mexico on the side of the Allies, as expressed in unprecedented security, economic, and military cooperation. The Mexican air force flew missions in the Philippines. This US-Mexican rapprochement and its architects were replaced after 1943, and the rise of the Cold War changed international linkages once again.
U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America in the 19th century initially focused on excluding or limiting the military and economic influence of European powers, territorial expansion, and encouraging American commerce. These objectives were expressed in the No Transfer Principle (1811) and the Monroe Doctrine (1823). American policy was unilateralist (not isolationist); it gradually became more aggressive and interventionist as the idea of Manifest Destiny contributed to wars and military conflicts against indigenous peoples, France, Britain, Spain, and Mexico in the Western Hemisphere. Expansionist sentiments and U.S. domestic politics inspired annexationist impulses and filibuster expeditions to Mexico, Cuba, and parts of Central America. Civil war in the United States put a temporary halt to interventionism and imperial dreams in Latin America. From the 1870s until the end of the century, U.S. policy intensified efforts to establish political and military hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, including periodic naval interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, reaching even to Brazil in the 1890s. By the end of the century Secretary of State Richard Olney added the Olney Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (“Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition . . .”), and President Theodore Roosevelt contributed his own corollary in 1904 (“in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of wrongdoing or impotence, to exercise an international police power”). American policy toward Latin America, at the turn of the century, explicitly justified unilateral intervention, military occupation, and transformation of sovereign states into political and economic protectorates in order to defend U.S. economic interests and an expanding concept of national security.
From 1800 to the present, US troops have intervened thousands of times in Latin America and have occupied its countries on dozens of occasions. Interventions were short-term and superficial, while occupations lasted longer and controlled local governments. The causes of these troop landings reflected the United States’ motivations as it expanded from a strong, large republic into first a continental and then an overseas empire at the expense of its smaller, weaker neighbors. Those motivations included colonial land hunger, cultural chauvinism, the exploitation of resources, the search for markets abroad, competition against other great powers, political reformism, global ideological struggle, and the perception that US domestic problems originated in Latin America. US troops undertook almost all these interventions and occupations, although private groups sometimes joined. The major periods were the expansion of the continental republic from 1811 to 1897, the war in Cuba and the apex of occupations (1898–1933), the Good Neighbor years (1934–1953), the Cold War (1954–1990), and the post-Cold War period (1991–2018 and ongoing). Scholars of these events have become increasingly critical and diverse, not only seeing them often as unnecessary brutal failures but also foregrounding extra-military aspects of these episodes, such as economics, race, and gender.
Josefina Zoraida Vázquez
The Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) formed the background for independence movements in the Americas. Great Britain increased its colonial land and was forced to make reforms in order to govern its territory, as was Spain, in order to modernize. Their subjects felt the consequences. Because of their experience in politics, those from the Thirteen Colonies resisted and eventually declared independence in 1776. France had been weakened by its losses and recognized the Confederation in 1778, before drawing Spain into the short fight. Because they were less important than their territory in the West Indies, Great Britain recognized their independence in 1783, ceding them the territory up to the Mississippi. The French Revolution allowed them to strengthen their government, trade as a neutral country, and purchase Louisiana in 1803.
New Spain was unfortunate in that it was a valuable viceroyalty of Spain, and, as it did not have allies, its long and bloody fight broke apart the administration. Upon achieving independence in 1821, it found itself in a deplorable situation. Impoverished and without political experience, it aroused the ambition of new trade countries and of the United States, the uninhabited territory to its north. To populate it, Mexico offered facilities and attracted American settlers, who violated the conditions that had been set and declared independence in Texas, joining the United States in 1845.
Mexico’s political inexperience, coupled with the siege coming from Spain, France, and the United States, prevented the country from consolidating a system of government and reviving its economy. By 1840, it exhibited a substantial contrast with the United States, which had a stable government, a connected and productive territory, and a growing population. In 1845, after annexing Texas, population reached nearly 20 million, while Mexico scarcely had 7 million.
By the time the United States initiated the attack, the result was foreseeable. Various armies were invading, and their fleets seized the ports in February 1847. New Mexico and California had been invaded and annexed, and the occupation was a heavy burden, as President Polk forced Mexico to pay. The bitter peace treaty was signed in 1848, and the United States’ newly annexed territory stretched to the Pacific.