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Author Biography:John Mason Hart is Professor of History at the University of Houston. His previous books include Revolutionary Mexico:The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution, Tenth Anniversary edition (California 1998).
Copyright © 2002 the Regents of the University of California.
All rights reserved.
In 1883 a group of the most prominent capitalists and politicians of the United States gathered with their Mexican counterparts in the banquet hall of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. The cabinet members and financiers took their seats at the long dining table. Facing each other at the left and the right of the head chair were General Porfirio Díaz and Ulysses S. Grant, both former presidents. Collis P. Huntington, one of the leading railroad industrialists and financiers of his time, took the head chair. In the meeting that ensued, the Mexican officials presented their case for pervasive American participation in the development of their economy, and the American investors bargained for access to Mexico's abundant natural resources. The program of free trade, foreign investment, and privatization of the Mexican countryside that they agreed upon that evening continues to resonate. The benefits and detriments of the agreements that they struck have influenced the relationship between the peoples and governments of the United States and Mexico to this day. It was the Americans' first step in a progression that has determined the relations between the United States and the nations of the Third World in the twenty-first century.
The story of the American experience in Mexico is one of intense interaction between two peoples and the relationship that developed between two nations as a result. Mexico was the first of the many legally recognized but economically and militarily weak nations that Americans encountered after the Civil War. Between 1865 and 2000, when this narrative concludes, the contacts and connections between Americans and Mexicans were marked not only by intervention and revolution, but by accommodation and cooperation as well. The history that unfolded during those 135 years offers critical insights into how the United States became a global empire, the impulses behind neo-liberalism, the growth of American culture in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and the process of globalization.
Americans entered Mexico well before they developed the capacity to exercise a powerful influence in the farther reaches of the world, but the most powerful among them already had a vision of world leadership. From the beginnings of the nineteenth century until the present era, the citizens of the United States attempted to export their unique "American Dream" to Mexico. Their vision incorporated social mobility, Protestant values, a capitalist free market, a consumer culture, and a democracy of elected representation.
The first stage of American involvement in Mexico began just after the Civil War. The economic and political leaders of the United States, led by an elite group of financiers and industrialists, envisioned a greater American nation—in some cases one that included Mexico and western Canada—that would have cultural, economic, and political hegemony over the peoples of the Caribbean, the Pacific, and Central and South America while offering an example of cultural, economic, and political success to the rest of the world. Sensing the opportunities for wealth and power that their southern neighbor offered, U.S. elites sought to extend their interests into Mexico by employing the strategies that were so successful for them in the American West. Following the establishment of initial mercantile and financial relations, they began by developing Mexico's infrastructure. The start of Porfirio Díaz's regime marked the second stage of U.S. involvement in Mexico—the active construction of railroads. The railroads allowed these men to gain access to Mexico's rich resources and encouraged other Americans to settle there. The participatory nature of American society soon added tens of thousands of immigrants to the U.S. presence in Mexico, deepening and broadening the influence of American culture.
During the Porfiriato the Americans sought ownership of Mexico's natural resources, and they also began to settle there as colonists. After the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, these Americans found themselves at the mercy of rebels and nationalists who destroyed property and appropriated land. The seizures continued after the revolution ended in 1920, and by 1940 Americans, both residents and absentee investors, had lost most of their material assets in Mexico. As the twentieth century progressed, the ambitions of U.S. citizens in Mexico changed. The economic pressures of World War II not only prompted Americans to seek cheap and efficient immigrant but also to reinvest in Mexico itself. After the war they increasingly accepted partnerships with their Mexican neighbors that at least provided access to the resources in Mexico that they had once owned. New contingents of students, teachers, artists, and retirees replaced the business people and the "boomers" who had formed colonies before the revolution.
The evolving patterns of American behavior in Mexico have reflected and usually anticipated the interactions of U.S. citizens in other Latin American and Third World societies. By the end of the twentieth century, U.S. interests had stretched to Eastern Europe and Russia, and the business and technological juggernaut envisioned by the American elite in the 1860s had tied Mexico to their interests through fiber optics and international electrical power grids.
Despite this long history of interaction, the vast majority of Americans maintained a remarkable indifference to their neighbor. In consequence, elite interests in the United States disproportionately influenced U.S. foreign policy toward Mexico. A pervasive American belief in their personal superiority over Mexicans and an entrenched economic insularity created that sense of distance and continued to prevail in the last decade of the twentieth century despite the development of closer business and political ties. In spite of the intense and long-standing relationship between Mexico and the United States, the domestic "War on Drugs" and working-class Mexican immigration, documented and undocumented, dominated public awareness of Mexico. The indifference of the great majority of Americans has left bilateral affairs in the hands of economic and political elites who were less than representative of American diversity, especially in the development of democratic institutions and respect for Mexican sovereignty.
This book addresses the nature of U.S. involvement in foreign countries for American readers and the nature of U.S. influence in Mexico for Mexican readers. It does so by explaining the activities of individuals and business people who as a collectivity constituted much of the American influence in Mexico. The Mexican reader is all too familiar with the loss of Texas, the causes and outcome of their war with the United States, the American filibustering raids of the nineteenth century, and the invasions of Veracruz and Chihuahua in the twentieth century. Indeed, the overwhelming evidence points to a compulsion on the part of the American elites toward external wealth, global power, and deeper personal contacts with other peoples, often in order to "save" them. This compulsion was first expressed internationally in Mexico.
This book will note political and military events after 1865, but with less emphasis than traditional diplomatic and political histories offer. Here I will concentrate on the more hidden but history-making interactions between Americans and Mexicans in Mexico. As a part of this project I personally visited the rural areas of every state in Mexico and virtually all of the pueblos and estates mentioned in the text. The research and writing of this work was a twelve-year process, and the reader should be advised that I have resisted accepting as absolutes the unsettling similarities that have emerged in recent years between the strategies of the contemporary American and Mexican regimes and those of the period before the revolution of 1910. The emphasis is still the search for money and power, but it focuses on industrial production for export to the United States, and it is no longer a one-way street. Today the Mexicans exert an enormous and growing cultural and economic influence in the United States.
Because Mexico provided the first setting for an American encounter outside the territory that now comprises the forty-eight states, the American experience in that country offers a unique opportunity to gain insight into the nature of U.S. power. Because Mexico is still intimately associated with the United States, our involvement there allows us to assess new events and measure long-term effects. Manifest Destiny, World Wars I and II, and the ratification of NAFTA are all part of the story, but the depth of the American commitment to Mexico transcends moments of economic and political drama. Throughout the 135 years between 1865 and 2000, immigrants from the United States persisted in maintaining their interests and lives in Mexico. They faced hardships on the cold windswept lands of the north, disease in the tropics, and revolutionary nationalism. Almost one million strong in 2000, their continued presence and that of their even more numerous descendants, who are native citizens of Mexico, remains impressive.
When the Americans began their search for opportunities in Mexico, the Mexicans were in the throes of their own civil war, which had turned into a struggle against an invading foreign power. It began as a fight between the Liberal and Conservative Parties, but turned into a popular effort to expel a powerful French army and defeat Louis Napoleon's effort to establish a European-controlled monarchy in the Americas. The victorious Liberal leadership that emerged sought new economic and political vitality for their destitute country through foreign investment and immigration. Their neighbors to the north became logical, if unequal, partners in that quest.
The dramatic history of the interactions that ensued between the two peoples, including the great Mexican revolution of 1910 and its aftermath, is now possible to tell because of declassified materials in the archives of the United States and the rich diversity of materials found in the public libraries and private collections of both countries. The period after 1947 is still shrouded by government security classifications, and therefore information is incomplete, but the historical knowledge of the previous eighty years provides us with sufficient insight to see the directions of the immediate past and the possibilities for the present and near future.
In a poignant observation, historian William Appleman Williams called Latin America the laboratory for American foreign policy. In Mexico, particularly, the American elites tested a variety of approaches they have since used to extend their power and influence around the globe. Those ventures include partnerships with local elites, cooperative arrangements among multinationals, particularly in the area of finance, and interventions ranging from covert operations such as funding and equipping Díaz's overthrow of President Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, and the "Equip and Train" operation at Veracruz, to outright invasions such as General John Pershing's foray into Mexico. In short, the study of the Americans in Mexico explains much about the origins of globalization. What follows is the complicated story of the Americans in Mexico as a precursor of world events. Much of it has not been revealed before.
Excerpted from Empire and Revolution by John Mason Hart. Copyright © 2002 by the Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Introduction: Imperial Ambition||1|
|I||The Rise of American Influence, 1865-1876||7|
|1||Arms and Capital||9|
|II||The Diaz Regime, 1876-1910||71|
|4||Building the Railroads||106|
|5||Silver, Copper, Gold, and Oil||131|
|7||Resident American Elite||201|
|8||Boomers, Sooners, and Settlers||235|
|III||The Years of Revolution, 1910-1940||269|
|9||Mexico for the Mexicans||271|
|10||Interventions and Firestorms||305|
|11||Crisis in the New Regime||343|
|12||Nationalization of Land and Industry||371|
|IV||The Reencounter, 1940-2000||401|
|13||Cooperation and Accommodation||403|
|14||Return of the American Financiers||432|
|15||Mexico in the New World Order||459|
|Conclusion: Imperial America||499|
|App. 1||Partial List of American Landholdings and Ownership in Mexico, 100,000 Acres and More, 1910-1913||511|
|App. 2||Partial List of American Properties of More Than 100,000 Acres or of Special Significance, Derived via Government Portions of Land Surveys or from the Land Survey Companies, 1876-1910||526|
|App. 3||American Banking Syndicates Formed to Render Financial Support to Britain and Her Allies during World War I, September 1914-April 1917||531|
|Notes on Archival Sources||541|
Posted May 14, 2002
In Empire and Revolution, John Mason Hart, an eminent Mexican historian, unravels a process in which a vanguard U.S. financial elite in pursuit of empire initially penetrated Mexico by financially supporting Porfirio Diaz¿s successful revolt against the democratically elected government of Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada. Once in power, Diaz offered a friendly and stable regime predisposed to unfettered foreign, particularly U. S., investments which developed and inevitably led to controlling Mexico¿s infrastructure. This, in turn, allowed a select group of capitalists to acquire land and resources, in vast quantities unknown until now, only to lose most of their acquisitions as a result of the Mexican Revolution. Hart¿s study continues the process in which U. S. capital re-penetrated Mexico, once the embers of revolutionary nationalism and social activism cooled and turned to more pragmatic economic development, and traces it to the present interdependent relationship under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In essence this study offers the reader insight of how Mexico became the first third-world nation that the United States encountered and how it served as a model for guiding latter-day U. S. third-world imperial impulses. While sweeping in scope, the work is replete with detailed portrayals of the key financial elite, both bankers and industrialists and civil-war era generals that first pried open the door into Mexico as well as the U. S. settlers that followed in their wake. Hart also sheds light into U. S. political and military might that helped buttress these financial elite¿s imperial pretensions¿one key military intervention in Veracruz help tip the scales to Carranza during the Mexican Revolution. Although highly nationalistic, Carranza was more acceptable to the U. S. financial and political powers than were Villa or Zapata. Beside covering the economic, political and military aspects of this imperial juggernaut, Hart provides insight into the cultural misunderstandings and accommodation that occurred throughout this longue durée. These cultural accommodations have resulted in a diffuse cultural space that Carlos Fuentes and others have christened MexAmerica. Based on copious primary sources (some recently declassified) from widely dispersed archives and twelve years of research, Empire and Revolution is a seminal work from which future historians of Mexico and U. S. relations will need to begin their inquiry. Additionally, this is a book that should be read by all State Department types and businessmen dealing with Mexico and NAFTA-related issues. It goes without saying that all others interested in our neighbor to the South and how interrelated our histories have been and will continue to be should also read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 24, 2002
I enjoyed reading this book. The work remains valuable because the author addresses a subject of interest to both the general reader and the academic community while avoiding a familiar pitfall. Often, writers addressing a topic as broad as the relations between two nations over the course of more than a century do so only in broad terms. Although Hart never loses sight of those larger issues, he also pays a lot of attention to the details. He tells the reader of the many communities in which Americans settled, of their interactions with Mexicans, and of the effect that great events such as the 1910 Revolution wrought. For those who want detail, this book will prove exceptionally rewarding.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.