Bethlehem Press

Friday, December 6, 2019

Mexico’s mercurial relationship with the United States

Monday, April 22, 2019 by Stephen Althouse Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Neighbors that share a nearly 2,000-mile border and trade $1.5 billion in goods and services every day have many reasons to get along. History shows the United States and Mexico have done just that, although it’s never been automatic.

Today that relationship is difficult, according to Cathy Oullette, a Muhlenberg College professor, whose presentation March 20 entitled ‘The United States and Mexico: Partnership Tested” comprised another discussion in the “Great Decisions Foreign Policy Lecture” series, held at Kirkland Village in Bethlehem.

Oullette portrayed Mexico as a country embroiled in narcotics. During the year 2012 alone, more than 47,000 Mexicans were killed in drug-related violence. By last year, that number increased by 11 percent. An estimated 90 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States moves through Mexico. Thanks to an increase in demand for drugs in the U.S., the country has become a major supplier of cocaine, heroin and cannabis.

“Only about 1 percent of reported crimes result in sentencing,” she said.

To understand why, the Muhlenberg College professor disseminated an encompassing Mexican history lesson. For many decades, the country’s persistent poverty and lack of industry allowed the drug trade to take root.

For more three centuries, Mexico was part of the Spanish Empire, whose legacy was to establish a country with a Spanish-speaking, Roman Catholic and largely Western culture. In reviewing Mexico’s historical narrative since the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, a few consistent factors emerge. First, the country faced what she called “endemic poverty” thanks, in part, “to lower levels and industry and economic growth.” Mexico had few factories in 1880, but the industrial revolution gradually changed that.

However, a “weak democracy and dictatorships” dominated for many decades until the Mexican Revolution, which spanned from 1910 through 1920.

For many years, the city of El Paso, Texas, served as Mexico’s version of Ellis Island, Oullette said. Immigrants passed through the city in great numbers and with great hopes. Another city transformed by Mexican immigration was the City of the Angels, better known as Los Angeles. In the year 1900, Oullette said the city was home to about 3,000 Mexicans. By 1930, that number had increased to a staggering 150,000.

“They helped turn what had been a rural mission town into a metropolis,” she noted.

During the latter half of the 20th century into the early 21st century, the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico has proven pragmatically amicable. The election of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in late 2018 has made the relationship with the United States mercurial. President Trump has focused on slowing illegal immigration from the country and has stated Mexico continues to do nothing to help, while continuing to take billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

Obrador, for his part, has played coy in public about the construction of a wall along border, according to Oullette. “He just ignores the question when asked by journalists.” In private, his relationship with President Trump is more of an unknown commodity, she said.