Mexico between Hitler and Roosevelt: Mexican Foreign Relations in the Age of Lazaro Cardenas, 1934-1940

By Kolb, Charles C. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Mexico between Hitler and Roosevelt: Mexican Foreign Relations in the Age of Lazaro Cardenas, 1934-1940


Kolb, Charles C., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Mexico between Hitler and Roosevelt: Mexican Foreign Relations in the Age of Lazaro Cardenas, 1934-1940. Friedrich E. Schuler. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.

In the introduction Shuler sets up his approach: by viewing Mexico from the inside looking outward rather than through the European and U.S. perspectives of viewing Mexico from the outside in, one can understand how Mexico under Cardenas was able to exploit the weaknesses of the great powers. Chapter 2 documents the role of technocrats as central to the development and execution of foreign policy, but who were surprisingly independent from the president. The professionalization of Mexico's Foreign Ministry led to the creation of an effective diplomatic organization that acquired and assessed critical information with regularity and with great speed. At the same time Cardenas worked to reorganize the national economy and prepared for the European conflict was seen as inevitable.

In the third chapter Shuler assesses the diplomatic environment and the growth of U.S.-Mexican commerce, the Good Neighbor Policy, the Silver Purchase Act of 1934, and Roosevelt's personal interest in Mexico. Next, Shuler discusses "The Watershed of Cardenismo (1934-1936)," an era of economic and social experimentation, followed by a bleak 1937 as Mexico struggled for survival, while 1938 was characterized as calculating when the expropriation of foreign-owned petroleum properties was planned and implemented. In December 1936 Mexico expropriated and redistributed foreign-owned cotton-growing lands in northern Mexico. Although the Mexican economy was in a state of severe crisis because of a strike by petroleum workers fuel shortages, Cardenas risked the expropriation in March 1938.

Chapter 5, "Mexican Economic Self-Defense in a Closing International Market (1938-1940)," views expropriation as an attempt to rescue Mexico's domestic economy and stabilize the government. Mexicans hailed the expropriation with enthusiasm and nationalism, while the British, Dutch, and U.S. petroleum companies could not present a united front against the Mexican government. Germany, Italy, and Japan negotiated separate oil-for-goods barter agreements with Mexico, but Schuler points out correctly that Mexico did its best to avoid dealing with the fascists. The Cardenas-Roosevelt relationship is evaluated in the sixth chapter, "Mexican Diplomatic and Propagandistic Self-Defense on the Eve of World War II (1938-1940)." Mexico's diplomatic successes, Schuler concludes, were due to three factors: ( 1 ) a long-term evaluation based upon the state of the petroleum industry before expropriation; (2) experienced Mexican bureaucrats who controlled negotiations with the oil multinationals and diplomacy; and (3) the fact that the Western powers' diplomatic bureaucracies were slow and ineffective. Roosevelt, Secretary of State Hull, Undersecretary Welles, and Ambassador to Mexico Daniels disagreed on many Mexican issues. Readers would like to know more about the contents of the Roosevelt-Cardenas personal correspondence about the oil issue and the effect these had on diplomacy. Roosevelt became convinced that Mexico was not pro-Nazi or was falling under Axis influence.

Chapter 7, "The Modernization of the Mexican Military under Cardenas (1934-1940)," documents changes in Mexico's military, the relationships with U.S. military planners, the national security concerns of both nations, and Cardenas's attempt to establish a Latin American defense force. Shuler examines a number of issues in chapter 8, "From Cardenas to Avil Camacho: The Rise of a Conservative Development Strategy, The Almazan Rebellion, and the Presidential Inauguration of 1940." The technocratic-induced expropriations (railroads, cotton lands and petroleum companies) and the beginning of World War II fashioned the conservatism of the Camacho regime and the defeat of rightist candidate Juan Almazan. Schuler comments that Mexican and U. …

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