In 1861, a large contingent of French, British and Spanish troops arrived on Mexican shores to support the imposition of Maximilian of Habsbourg as emperor of Mexico. The French contingent advanced to Mexico City and encountered resistance in the city of Puebla where, on the 5th of May of 1862, they were defeated by a small Mexican battalion and eventually fled the country.
Every year on the 5th of May large festivities take place to celebrate the Mexican victory in the Batalla de Puebla against the French Army. To the surprise of many, 5 de mayo is not Mexico’s national day (Mexico commemorates its national day on the anniversary of its independence, 16th of September). In reality, 5th of May is only one of many other celebrations in the Mexican historical calendar. It actually has become famous around the world thanks to huge range of festivities organised by Mexican-American communities in the US.
The battle of Puebla is significant not only because a small unprepared Mexican army defeated and expelled the French from Mexican territory, but because it represents the last attempt of European powers to invade American territory. To the satisfaction of President James Monroe, his famous doctrine “America for the Americans” had finally become a reality (I would like to stress that we refer to America as the continent, and Americans as the population of this continent and not to the narrow and commonly used reference of America as the United States and Americans as its citizens).
Throughout the history of relations between the US and Latin America, the Monroe Doctrine has had many and, in some cases, quite broad interpretations. Although military interventions have become rather rare, cover operations and other forms of interference have been widely used in the continent. The end of the Cold War shifted the attention of the US to other regions of the world. However, despite fervorous calls for national sovereignty, there were still claims of substantial US engagement in Latin America’s domestic affairs.
Unsurprisingly, Mexico has not been spared and in reality perhaps has suffered more than any other nation in the region. Geographical proximity, economic interdependence, social interconnection and common challenges have resulted in a very complex relationship between the US and Mexico; but at the same time, this complexity has allowed the multiplication of numerous avenues for mutual collaboration.
During his recent visit to Mexico, President Obama highlighted the importance for the two countries to strengthen the bilateral relationship. Both Presidents focused their discussions on increasing efforts for further collaboration on trade and investment, energy security, education, innovation and competitiveness.
Nevertheless, it did not take long for criticisms on both sides of the border. Security and immigration, crucial issues for the bilateral agenda, had not been sufficiently discussed and were barely mentioned in official communiques. On the Mexican side, despite general agreement that these two topics should not overrun the bilateral relation, Mexico would like to see further US engagement in this regard (for instance, the immigration reform and larger arms control). While on the American side, criticism has focused on the importance of deepening cooperation to fight organised crime and see Peña Nieto’s measures to scale down US intelligence and security agents involvement in Mexico, as a sign of mistrust.
Critique became particularly sharp when Mexico’s new administration policies were compared to the wider cooperation and greater access that existed with the previous PAN government. Regular surveyance flights over Mexican territory, the establishment of ‘coordinating’ offices in Mexico City and Nuevo León and the free circulation of armed agents of FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), ICS (Immigration and Citizenship Services), ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and NSA (National Security Agency) does not appear to be the kind of close bilateral cooperation that PRI would prefer.
Despite restrictions on US involvement in the fight against organised crime and other domestic issues, it appears that we are far away from a definite adiós to the Monroe Doctrine in the hemisphere. Certainly, old style military interventions seem unlikely, but new IT resources, the interdependence of global markets and transnational societies have provided a new arsenal of interference tools that perhaps can prove to be ever more effective than traditional ones.….