Monday, April 21, 2014

The Invasion of Veracruz and Beyond

One hundred years ago today, the United States invaded Mexico, specifically Veracruz. Enrique Krauze has a very nice summary in the New York Times. Like so many other U.S. invasions, it did not achieve its goals and in many ways generated unnecessary resentment. However, I don't buy this:

Will an American president be willing to examine this long history of resentment and distrust, the better to construct a “happy ending” to these conflicts with “the other America”? Concrete actions are required: to pass long-awaited reforms of immigration laws, increase commercial relations and encourage mutual understanding, nourish cultural exchanges, lift the embargo on Cuba, close Guantánamo, and to be much more attentive and respectful toward Latin American countries and not treat them as the mere backyard of the nation they call “the Giant of the North.”

There are a few problems. One is that Mexicans' view of the United States is not easily characterized as "resentment and distrust." That sentiments were more common in the aftermath of the invasion. Similarly, today Americans are not angry at Germans for the Zimmermann Telegram. The same is true in many other places where the U.S. invaded: there is currently no rancor in the Dominican Republic, Panama, and elsewhere. The governments most antagonistic toward U.S. policy suffered no invasions at all (though certainly there was intervention). You don't hear Hugo Chávez or Nicolás Maduro rail on about the 1895 crisis.

I am also not so sure that anything will change if immigration reform is passed or if Guantánamo is closed. My hunch is that Latin Americans don't care very much about them. Maybe the embargo, but even that would not necessarily be earth-shattering.

Instead, I would juxtapose this op-ed with another in the New York Times on the importance of strengthening U.S.-Brazilian relations. A state visit was all lined up and what happened? The revelations of spying, which backed Dilma Rousseff into a corner. Immigration reform isn't going to change that and neither will cultural exchanges. Those things are important, but not sufficient.

The more question is how much you're stabbing your allies in the back while talking about the end of the Monroe Doctrine. It's about how hard you make it for allies to stick with you. Multiple recent studies have shown that Latin American views of the United States are positive, much more than most media reports would have you believe. The real trick is to translate that positive energy into higher levels of government.


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