When the American right loved MexicoRoundup
tags: economic history, politics, Mexico, free trade, conservative history
Mario Del Pero is professor of international history at SciencesPo, Paris. He is the author of "Era Obama."
Vanni Pettinà is associate professor of Latin American international history at the Center for Historical Studies of El Colegio de México and author of "Historia Mínima de la Guerra Fría en América Latina."
On June 10, 1991, an inspired Elliott Abrams, returning from a ballgame with his kids in Frederick, Md., wrote to President George H.W. Bush suggesting that it would be a “wonderful adjunct to the US-Mexico Free Trade Agreement if we could somehow get a major league team into Monterrey or Mexico City.” Baseball, wrote the assistant secretary of state for human rights, would be a great “complement to the economic side of North American cooperation.”
Twenty-eight years later, such hopeful optimism about North American cooperation seems long forgotten. Indeed, President Trump recently proposed imposing new tariffs on all Mexican goods to punish Mexico for its alleged inability to curb immigration flows to the United States.
The contrast between Abrams’s inclusive approach to Mexico and the hostility of the current administration, which does not hesitate to blackmail and bully its southern neighbor, is striking. Trump’s behavior shows that the consensus about hemispheric relations seems to have shifted on the American right. Ideas about free trade, and the assumptions about the world that underpinned them, have transformed from cornerstones of Washington’s conservative post-Cold War order to its bête noire. And so has the idea that fostering economic interdependence could further U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere.
Abrams was no liberal. A hawkish neocon convicted over his role in the Iran-contra scandal, he was also accused of systematically covering up human rights abuses in El Salvador and Guatemala during the 1980s Central American conflicts. However, his evocation of baseball diplomacy is a reminder of a now-distant era, when the hemispheric strategy of the U.S. right, even in its most radical iterations, still saw the bilateral relationship with Mexico as an asset rather than a threat to the country’s national security.
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