Mexico, with a large population (over 98 million), diversified resource basis, and a growing manufacturing sector, might seem a success story among developing nations. Yet in many ways, Mexico has not yet escaped from the four D’s that have been part of the crisis of Latin America during the 1990s: ‘debt, drugs, development, and democracy.’ Nor has its location next to the United States and membership in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) been an unmixed blessing. Mexico faces major political and social challenges, as well as a need to develop a more robust and balanced economy that can endure the shocks of globalization.
The early and mid-nineteenth century period was a confused one of liberal versus conservative forces competing against each other and dealing with repeated foreign interventions, including a French invasion of Veracruz in 1838. Perhaps the most disastrous of these was the conflict with the United States (1846-1848) in which Mexico lost almost half of its territory, including the current U.S. states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, while Texas had seceded from Mexico in 1836. In large measure, this was a side-effect of the concept of Manifest Destiny in U.S. thinking, whereby territory adjoining the U.S. but not ‘governed effectively’ by Mexico should become part of the expanding United States. This and other U.S. interventions in the region left a curious mixture of dependency on and fear of the U.S. in Mexican political history, a factor that would continue down till the late 20th century. As noted by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes: ‘our perception of the United States has been that of a democracy inside and an empire outside: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We have admired democracy: we have deplored empire.’
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