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Mexico and the Cold War: The International Context of the “Perfect Dictatorship”. Halbert Jones, Ph.D. Office of the Historian U.S. Department of State

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mexico and the cold war the international context of the perfect dictatorship

Mexico and the Cold War: The International Context of the “Perfect Dictatorship”

Halbert Jones, Ph.D.

Office of the Historian

U.S. Department of State


The views expressed and interpretations presented in this session are those of the presenter and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Government.

foreign relations of the united states
Foreign Relations of the United States
  • Official documentary record of U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic activity
  • Published since 1861
  • “Documentary history”: Documents from the archives, selected and annotated
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the office of the historian online
The Office of the Historian Online

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other online resources
Other Online Resources

For access to scanned images of pre-1960 FRUS volumes, fully searchable.

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“Mexico is the perfect dictatorship. The perfect dictatorship is not communism. It is not the USSR. It is not Fidel Castro. The perfect dictatorship is Mexico….”

- Mario Vargas Llosa, 1990

mexico and the cold war
Mexico and the Cold War

Cold War’s impact on Mexico less obvious than its effects on many other countries in the region:

  • Unlike Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, no coups or anti-communist military dictatorships
  • Unlike Cuba, no Marxist revolution
  • Unlike Central America, no civil conflicts that became proxy wars
mexico as an exceptional case
Mexico as an Exceptional Case
  • Political stability, marked by dominance of a single party, 1929-2000
  • No extreme repression,though Mexico did have its own “dirty war”
  • Alliance with US, but with displays of independence
explaining mexico s stability
Explaining Mexico’s Stability

Historians have pointed to:

  • Regime’s use of revolutionary rhetoric
  • “No Re-election” principle
  • Economic growth, “Mexican Miracle”
  • Sectoral organizations
  • Cooptation when possible
  • Repression when necessary
international factors also important
International Factors Also Important …

Cold War atmosphere made possible:

  • A tacit understanding with the United States that enabled Mexico to enjoy an enhanced degree of independence in exchange for the maintenance of stability
  • The implementation of anti-subversion laws justified by alleged threats from abroad
social dissolution
“Social Dissolution”

Federal Penal Code

Article 145

Imprisonment from two to twelve years and a fine from a thousand to ten thousand pesos will be applied to the foreigner or Mexican national who in spoken or written form, or by any other means, carries out political propaganda among foreigners or among Mexican nationals, spreading ideas, programs or norms of action of any foreign government that disturb public order or affect the sovereignty of the Mexican State.

article 145
Article 145
  • 1941 Enacted as WWII-era measure aimed at saboteurs and propagandists
  • 1951 Expanded in light of Korean War; penalties stiffened, new clauses added
  • 1952-59 Law used against striking workers, opposition figures, students
article 14513
Article 145
  • 1959 Striking railroad workers arrested and charged; leaders later convicted
  • 1960 Communist muralist Siqueiros imprisoned for “social dissolution,” pardoned in 1964
  • 1968 Repeal of Article 145 included among demands of student movement
  • Student movement calling for reforms arose following heavy-handed police response to July 1968 clash between rival student groups
  • Tense stand-off with President DíazOrdaz, who suspected communist involvement
  • Movement suppressed by troops at Plaza de TresCulturas, October 2, 1968, just before opening of Olympics
after tlatelolco
After Tlatelolco
  • 1970 Article 145 repealed (replaced by new clauses on sabotage and terrorism)
  • 1970-76 Echeverría administration sought to win over an increasingly disillusioned younger generation (despite continuing, often extrajudicial, repression of urban and rural guerrilla groups and others)
early cold war leaders
Early Cold War Leaders

Miguel Alemán (1946-1952)

  • Quietly pledged support to US, while adopting a more nationalist stance
  • Curtailed labor independence through the charrazo

Adolfo Ruiz Cortines (1952-1958)

  • Promised a more honest administration
  • Cracked down at various points on striking workers, students
  • Limited objections to 1954 Guatemala coup
the 1960s
The 1960s

Adolfo López Mateos (1958-1964)

  • Maintained relations with Cuba after Revolution
  • Welcomed JFK to Mexico
  • Applied Article 145 against RR workers, Siqueiros; Jaramillo murdered

Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970)

  • Remembered as most repressive figure in Mexico’s Cold War history
  • Held responsible for Tlatelolco
international populism
International Populism

Luis Echeverría (1970-1976)

  • GDO’s interior minister
  • Sought Third World leadership roles, asserting independence from the United States

José López Portillo (1976-1982)

  • Bolstered by new oil discoveries, continued to pursue an independent foreign policy
  • Faced extreme economic problems by end of term
debt crisis and economic reform
Debt Crisis and Economic Reform

Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988)

  • Faced debt crisis inherited from JLP
  • Legitimacy of regime further undermined by ineffective response to 1985 earthquake

Carlos Salinas (1988-1994)

  • Faced charges of electoral fraud
  • Carried out neoliberal reforms
  • Signed NAFTA (shaped by end of Cold War)
key points
Key Points
  • Mexico’s Cold War experience was distinctive
  • Cold War created conditions that facilitated the endurance of stable, single-party rule
  • East-West conflict imposed limits but also created opportunities for Mexico and its leaders

Nikita Khrushchev, in response to the suggestion that Soviet aircraft could land in Mexico after bombing the United States:

“What do you think Mexico is – our mother-in-law? You think we can simply go calling any time we want?”