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The U.S. and Mexico: 150 Years of Ambivalence

June 11, 2000

Managing the relationship between Mexico and the United States has never been easy for either country. In the year 2000, however, there has been progress in the way the governments have dealt with each other compared to the past 150 years.

The content and repercussions of the only two agreements ever signed between the two countries could help us understand the depth of the attitudinal change in the relationship. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had an enormous cost for Mexico. With it, Mexico not only lost half its territory to the U.S. but also gained a deep mistrust of its powerful neighbor. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, on the other hand, has allowed Mexico to triple its exports to the U.S. in only six years. NAFTA has helped Mexicans develop a hitherto unknown confidence that they should be treated as equals to the mighty neighbor.

The saying "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States," which so aptly captured the apprehension Mexicans felt, has been replaced by a new attitude: A dignified sense of cooperation pays more dividends than the traditional confrontation. The economic, political, social and cultural differences between the two countries are enormous. And all these pose a tremendous challenge for leaders, here and there, who have to formulate policies and chart the political course that the relationship will require in the future.

On July 2, Mexico will have its most competitive presidential election ever. Never before has the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, faced the challenge that it is confronting from left and right. After holding the presidency for more than seven decades, there is a good chance that the PRI could finally lose it.

Although there are six candidates vying for the presidency, only those of the PRI, the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and the National Action Party, or PAN, have a real chance at victory. The Times asked those three to write how they envision the bilateral relationship. A fourth candidate from the Social Democracy Party also was asked to write. Although his chances of winning are slim, he represents a new constituency, and minority voices seldom are heard in the Mexican political landscape.

Each of the four agreed to answer two questions: In what way do you think that United States' policies have hindered the economic, political and social development of Mexico? If you were elected president of Mexico, what would you do to change those policies?

These are their answers.

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