The United States recently "discovered" Mexico. Potential oil reserves of 200 billion barrels helped focus our attention and sparked interest in forging some kind of special relationship with our southern neighbor. Concrete proposals range from a North American Accord or Common Market to less dramatic package deals that would swap petroleum for increased Mexican access to U.S. markets.

Unfortunately our timing is off. For years Mexico hoped our nearly 3,000-mile shared border would bring it special benefits. Instead it brought invasions, four occupations and the loss of half its territory to the United States. Now that Mexico has oil, its need for a special relationship with the United States is less compelling than ever before. Mexico may change its attitude as it gets accustomed to its new status, but in the meantime, U.S. initiatives for ambitious bilateral schemes are counterproductive. At this time of transition in Mexico-U.S. relations we could accomplish more if we tried to do less.

On the other hand, a prolonged oil glut may cause us to go too far in the opposite direction. Without an energy crisis, we may once again lose interest in Mexico. This would be extremely shortsighted since Mexico's importance to the United States transcends its oil. Our principal and permanent interest is a stable and prosperous Mexico. The power to achieve this is in the hands of the Mexicans. U.S. neglect, however, like excessive enthusiasm, makes their task more difficult by adding a rocky bilateral relationship to their list of problems.

Mexico's problems have not diminished with its new oil wealth. The unique political system created after the Mexican Revolution of 1910, with its ruling party and constitutional prohibition against reelection of the president, has given Mexico peace and allowed substantial economic growth. Both have been achieved, however, at the expense of the Mexican masses. Mexico entered the 1970s with one of the most inequitable distributions of income in all of Latin America. Oil promised to redress the balance and enable Mexico to have both growth and social justice. The initial returns from five years of "petroleum politics," however, are discouraging. Approximately 40 percent of the population is unemployed or underemployed and inflation is at an all-time high of about 30 percent. An overvalued peso is undermining manufactured exports. And the expansion of petroleum production from 0.8 million barrels per day in 1976 to 2.7 million barrels per day in 1981 has helped push the foreign debt to about $50 billion.

The next few years will be crucial for Mexico. They will determine whether the country will have "an oil economy or an economy with oil." Nobody wants the former, yet it is not clear how to achieve the latter. President López Portillo has begun the search for a solution by selecting as his successor a man with impressive technocratic and economic expertise. Miguel de la Madrid will also be the first Mexican president to speak fluent English and have a degree from a major U.S. university. He will be in a good position to create a more positive Mexican relationship with the United States if the United States will let him do it.


Conventional wisdom has it that relations between Mexico and the United States went from bad to worse during the Carter Administration. Since President Reagan took office, relations seem to have improved so spectacularly that people in both countries are questioning whether the historical, psychological, political and economic obstacles to a good relationship between Mexico and the United States may have been overemphasized.

Perhaps they have been. The truth is, however, that Mexico-U.S. relations are rarely as good, or as bad, as they appear to be. Because of the large number of transactions that take place between the two countries, much of the relationship involves highly specific, detailed and day-to-day contacts and exchanges that either do not involve government or, if they do, fall within the jurisdiction of state and local rather than the federal government, particularly on the U.S. side. This has led at least one observer to conclude that relations between the Soviet Union and the United States are easier to manage than those between Mexico and the United States, since almost all aspects of the former relationship are controlled by the two national governments while the number of "private players" in the latter is overwhelming. It also helps to explain why Mexico was able to move from being our fifth to our third most important trading partner (after Canada and Japan) during the Carter Administration, when Mexico-U.S. relations were supposedly in disarray.

There is little doubt that with the accession of Ronald Reagan to the U.S. presidency, the tone of the bilateral relationship improved markedly. There are several explanations. One is the closer fit between the personalities of Presidents López Portillo and Reagan, symbolized by the similarity between the "macho" gifts exchanged during their initial encounter: the stallion to Reagan and the rifle to López Portillo. Both Reagan and López Portillo are also noted for their concern with the big picture and their willingness to leave the details to subordinates, which was not true of Jimmy Carter. Finally, the Carter experience convinced both Reagan and López Portillo that a good personal relationship between the U.S. and Mexican Presidents was essential for good relations between their respective countries.

While a good personal relationship between the two Presidents makes it easier to manage problems between the two countries, it does not cause them to disappear. The meetings between Presidents Reagan and López Portillo have involved exchanges of ideas. No decisions on the hard issues have been taken. In part, this is because a Mexican president approaching the end of his six-year term tries to avoid making innovative decisions. Since de la Madrid will not take power until December 1982, issues involving the shape of the bilateral relationship are, in a sense, "on hold." Once they begin to be addressed, the differing perspectives of the two Presidents will become apparent. It is sobering to recall that Jimmy Carter's initial encounter with López Portillo was also a kind of love-fest. López Portillo was Carter's first official visitor and hopes ran high that a new and better era in Mexico-U.S. relations was beginning. They evaporated when the nitty-gritty issues, such as the price the United States was to pay for Mexican gas, began to be negotiated.

Mexico-U.S. relations were therefore worse than they appeared to be in the early years of the Carter Administration and better than they appeared to be at the end of his presidency. Progress was achieved in increasing the attention that U.S. policymakers gave to Mexico, as well as their sensitivity to the bad effects that domestic decisions might have on Mexico. This was accomplished in part through the establishment of a "consultative mechanism" consisting of bilateral committees that met regularly to discuss issues such as trade, energy and migration. It was also enhanced by the creation of an office in the State Department to keep track of and coordinate decisions of the U.S. government that affect Mexico.

In terms of what the Carter Administration hoped to achieve, however, its accomplishments fell far short of its intentions. In the area of energy, for example, the Administration succeeded in negotiating an agreement that gave the United States an assured supply of Mexican natural gas and Mexico an assured market for its gas. The way the negotiations were handled, however, damaged the overall bilateral relationship. Mexico thought it had a binding agreement in 1977 to sell natural gas to six U.S. oil companies at $2.65 per thousand cubic feet. President López Portillo had worked hard to get Mexicans to accept this price, which was lower than many thought acceptable. He had also allowed construction of a pipeline to the Texas border, despite the nationalistic uproar this produced. After a flamboyant announcement of these decisions by the Mexican President, Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger killed the agreement because the price was too high. This embarrassed President López Portillo. The new purchase price finally agreed on in 1979 saved the United States some money but lost it substantial goodwill in Mexico.

In the area of trade, the Administration did not achieve a major objective. Convinced that Mexico-and the United States-would benefit from a gradual but significant reduction in Mexican protectionism, the United States tried hard to persuade Mexico to join the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). The issue was widely debated in Mexico, where opinion was divided. Because the United States appeared so eager for Mexico to join, many Mexicans assumed that GATT membership would benefit the United States more than Mexico. López Portillo finally decided to postpone entry, in part because he believed that oil would substitute for GATT membership in enabling Mexico to attract new investment and increase the volume of its international trade.

Immigration policy fared no better. In 1977, the Administration sent a proposal to Congress that included an amnesty for undocumented Mexicans who had lived in the United States continuously since 1970, sanctions for employers of undocumented workers and a reinforced border patrol. It pleased nobody. Hispanics, supported by civil rights groups, feared it would make employers discriminate against them. Labor unions felt the proposed legislation was not tough enough. And employers argued that sanctions would require them to act as immigration agents. The legislation died in Congress.

Any compilation of good intentions and bad results must also include the tactless mention by President Carter of "Montezuma's revenge" during a state dinner in Mexico in 1979 and the heavy-handed efforts to get Mexico to take back the Shah of Iran after he had received medical treatment in the United States. By the time Ronald Reagan was elected, the impression in both Mexico and the United States was that bilateral relations had no place to go but up under the new U.S. President.


Even before his election to the presidency, Ronald Reagan publicly supported the idea of a North American Common Market or Accord that would eventually allow goods and people to move freely among Mexico, Canada and the United States. He was motivated in part by a desire to increase U.S. access to Mexican (and Canadian) energy resources. He also believed, however, that the expanded market would benefit all three countries. Finally, as a former governor of California, Reagan was particularly sensitive to the growing interaction between Mexico and the United States.

As President, Reagan continued to support the idea of a North American Accord until August 1981, when the Administration announced that the lack of Mexican and Canadian enthusiasm made the concept unfeasible for the present. The idea of forging some kind of special relationship with Mexico, however, continues to have important supporters within the White House, State Department, Pentagon and Congress. Such a relationship fits easily into the Administration's policy of strengthening bilateral relations with strategically important and friendly countries.

Mexico, however, has its own plans. Although it would like good relations with the United States, it is also eager to expand ties with other countries. This will help Mexico escape the "special relationship" it has always had with the United States, one that many Mexicans compare with the relationship between a rider and his horse. The memory of the past, therefore, makes Mexico unenthusiastic about a new special relationship with the United States.

There is also a growing sense in Mexico that a special relationship with the United States would bring Mexico few significant benefits compared with the costs it would entail. The basic U.S. rationale for a special relationship would be enhanced access to Mexican oil. An obvious way of achieving it would be through a long-term agreement whereby Mexico would sell the United States a specified number of barrels per day of petroleum, with the price dependent on whatever quid pro quo the United States might offer in return. Mexico, however, would find it difficult to make such a deal.

The nationalization of the oil industry by President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938, after a bitter battle with foreign and particularly U.S. companies, transformed oil into a symbol of Mexican nationalism, sovereignty, dignity and independence from foreign domination. This explains why President López Portillo took a big political risk when he supported the construction of a natural gas pipeline to the U.S. border. Collapse of the first natural gas deal fanned anti-Yankee flames and strengthened opponents of the pipeline or of any major deal involving the supply of substantial amounts of petroleum or natural gas to the United States.

In addition, Mexicans place a high priority on maintaining maximum control over their country's internal economic and political decision-making processes. For this reason Mexico has not yet joined OPEC. This also motivated Mexico's November 1980 decision not to sell more than 50 percent of its petroleum exports to any one country. Mexico had been selling 80 percent of its exports to the United States. As one Mexican put it, "We were selling so much oil to Exxon that we were going to change its name to Mexxon." Limiting sales to the United States was a way of limiting U.S. influence.

Since the Administration of Luis Echeverría (1970-76), Mexico also has been increasingly interested in diversifying its trading partners. The 50 percent ceiling on exports to any one country gives Mexico more petroleum to sell to other potential buyers such as France, West Germany and Japan. This in turn enhances Mexico's ability to obtain investment commitments and pay lower prices for the technology it purchases from these countries.

Finally, Mexico has decided to play a larger role internationally, particularly in support of Third World goals. Its collaboration with Venezuela in the Caribbean Basin oil facility, which converts part of the purchase price of petroleum into low-cost loans for development, is an example of this commitment. So is the proposal for a World Energy Plan that President López Portillo presented to the United Nations in 1979.

If the current world oil glut continues indefinitely, however, Mexico might want a guaranteed market for its petroleum exports. Mexico's long-term commitment made in August 1981 to sell the United States petroleum for its strategic petroleum reserve, for example, followed hard on the softening of the oil market, which reduced both the price and the amount of petroleum Mexico exported. Under prolonged glut conditions, though, the issue would no longer be whether Mexico wanted to sell, but whether the United States wanted to buy.

Although guaranteed access to specified quantities of Mexican oil would be of the greatest interest to the United States, Mexican decisions to liberalize trade also would form a highly desirable part of a special relationship from the U.S. perspective. Such decisions, however, would encounter obstacles within Mexico because of their link with prevailing concepts of nationalism and the role of the state in fostering Mexico's economic development.

Mexico's impressive level of industrialization dates from the 1940s and owes much to the efforts of the state to protect and nurture Mexican industry against foreign competition. Tariffs, import quotas and licenses, and government subsidies were, and continue to be, the main tools used to encourage Mexican industrial development. Attracted by the growing Mexican market, however, foreign companies got around Mexican protectionism by establishing subsidiaries within Mexico. This may have been the intention of the Mexican government. Nonetheless, the foreign subsidiaries soon discovered that they were veritable foxes in a protected chicken coop. Since the Mexican government, in bestowing its benefits, did not discriminate between Mexican-owned companies and foreign subsidiaries, the more technologically sophisticated and efficient foreign subsidiaries found they had a competitive advantage over their Mexican-owned counterparts. The increasingly obvious domination of the Mexican market by the foreign-owned subsidiaries produced pressures for their control. The result was a series of laws regulating foreign investment, the transfer of technology, and patents and trademarks. More, recently, the government has adopted so-called performance requirements that require auto manufacturers to trade off local content for exports. These performance requirements could be applied to other industries as the government attempts to further reduce costly imports and increase manufactured exports.

From the U.S. point of view, protectionist measures, regulations controlling foreign investment, and performance requirements restrict foreign investment, reduce trade between the United States and Mexico, and discriminate unfairly against U.S. manufacturers. To even the score, U.S. producers of steel, autos and petrochemicals are expected to bring countervailing duty suits against their Mexican competitors in the near future.

Despite the actual and potential costs to Mexico of policies that restrict free trade, there is little likelihood that Mexico would agree to liberalize its trade policies significantly as part of a special relationship with the United States. As the decision to postpone entry into the GATT showed, Mexico still feels vulnerable to foreign competition and continues to resist agreements that remove economic decisions from government control. With oil, Mexico is in a good position to attract foreign capital, even despite foreign investment laws and performance requirements. This means that the benefits of significant trade liberalization will remain less important to Mexico than the ability to pursue a nationalistic economic development strategy, regardless of its inefficiencies.

A third area where Mexico could give the United States something that it truly wants is migration policy. Mexico could either take unilateral steps to reduce the flow of undocumented workers to the United States (now estimated to range between one-half and one-and-a-half million people annually) or cooperate with the United States in such an effort.

Although the U.S. government has asserted repeatedly that undocumented workers are a problem for both countries, many Mexicans see undocumented workers as a U.S. problem and a Mexican solution. Approximately 800,000 Mexicans enter the job market each year. This number will probably increase since half of Mexico's population is under 15 years of age and the population is growing by 2.7 percent annually. Mexico has rarely been able to create more than 350,000 jobs, with the notable exception of 1980. In the sense of making up the shortfall, migration of undocumented Mexican workers to the United States is seen as a "solution."

The only problem that Mexico has been willing to acknowledge publicly is the exploitation of Mexican citizens by U.S. employers. To the argument that Mexico has some responsibility for controlling the flow of undocumented workers, Mexicans often respond that such control violates the Mexican constitution and is impossible and unreasonable as long as U.S. employers are willing and eager to hire undocumented Mexican workers.

There are two ways in which Mexico could reduce the number of undocumented migrants to the United States. Both present problems. The first involves accelerating economic growth in order to increase job creation. This is essentially what occurred in 1980, when the economy grew by eight percent and the number of jobs increased by nearly 800,000. Rapid economic growth, however, exacerbated other problems such as excessive government spending, inflation and overvaluation of the peso.

The other alternative is policing its own people. This would be profoundly destabilizing politically. The addition of several hundred thousand Mexicans to the ranks of the unemployed also would be difficult for the government to manage successfully. Finally, the loss to the economy of the estimated three billion dollars that undocumented workers send annually to their families in Mexico could not be easily absorbed.

Mexico might be able to cooperate in regulating the flow of undocumented workers, however, if the United States were to propose a guest worker program that would allow large numbers of Mexicans to enter the United States and include safeguards against their exploitation by U.S. employers. The program proposed by the Reagan Administration allows for the entry of only 100,000 Mexicans over a two-year period and includes no such safeguards.


Prospects for a special relationship between Mexico and the United States based on reciprocal concessions and mutual respect will be affected by the foreign policies of both countries. If Mexico and the United States continue to diverge significantly on issues of foreign policy, their differences could affect the bilateral relationship and make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to be forthcoming and cooperative with each other.

Until recently, differences between Mexican and U.S. foreign policies rarely affected the overall bilateral relationship. This was not because the two countries were always in agreement. The most consistent difference between them since the 1960s has been over Cuba. Mexico refused to vote in favor of OAS (Organization of American States) sanctions against Cuba, then refused to go along with the sanctions that were approved. Mexico also voted against ousting Cuba from the inter-American system. Earlier, Mexico did not support the 1954 vote condemning communism in Guatemala. Nor did it vote in favor of the inter-American peacekeeping force for the Dominican Republic in 1965. Mexico justified its positions on the basis of the two principles that have long underlaid its approach to foreign affairs-nonintervention and self-determination. Its emphasis on these principles is clearly related to its sense of vulnerability vis-à-vis the United States.

The great attention now being given to foreign policy differences between Mexico and the United States results from Mexico's increased activity in that area. Even before the quantity of Mexico's petroleum reserves was known, Mexico's high level of development relative to other Third World countries made it an ever more obvious candidate for leadership of the "South" in the North-South dialogue. President Echeverría's interest in becoming Secretary General of the United Nations accelerated the process. The discovery of vast amounts of petroleum only intensified an existing inclination toward playing a larger role in world affairs.

Events in Central America also diminished Mexico's traditional reluctance to involve itself in world affairs. For a brief period in the early nineteenth century, Central America formed part of Mexico. More recently, it has been regarded by many Mexicans as Mexico's "natural" sphere of influence, although this is rarely acknowledged publicly. Central America, however, traditionally has been part of the U.S. sphere of influence as well. The fact that Mexico and the United States have different interpretations of the problem there, as well as different proposals for its solution, has made conflict over Central America an important issue in Mexico-U.S. relations.

Mexico's position is that political, economic and social changes in the region are long overdue and forces working to bring them about are now irreversible. Like the United States, Mexico does not believe that the only alternatives available are a "Cuban solution" or a right-wing military dictatorship. Unlike the United States, however, Mexico doubts the possibility or viability of a moderate or center-democratic solution and instead foresees a center-left regime that is pluralist, but not necessarily democratic, as the most likely outcome. Mexican policy is therefore aimed at supporting center-left forces in order to end political violence quickly and to exert a moderating influence on the victors. The September 1981 decision by Mexico and France to grant official opposition status to the Salvadoran Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) is a good example of Mexico's approach.

Mexico's analysis of both the problem and the solution in Central America is shaped by events in its recent past. The political elite that governs Mexico today came to power in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1910, which began as a rebellion against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. In view of Mexico's revolutionary heritage, it is very difficult for its political leaders to align themselves publicly against revolutionary movements, particularly when these aim to oust repressive dictatorships. Furthermore, one of the great achievements of the revolution was the establishment of a civilian-dominated political system and the creation of a professional military establishment that is subservient to elected officials. A foreign policy that would reinforce military rule in other countries runs the risk of enhancing the legitimacy of military rule in Mexico, with possibly serious consequences for domestic politics.

Mexico's revolutionary heritage also makes it less frightened of left-wing movements than is its northern neighbor. The coalition of political elites that has governed Mexico since the 1920s has included exponents of leftist ideologies and their lower class followers. New leftist leaders and their constituents have gained entry into Mexico's ever-expanding political system by means of a process of co-optation, whereby the government provides concrete and symbolic benefits to the leaders and their followers in return for their agreement to abide by the rules of the political game. This domestic co-optation strategy has been applied to foreign countries, such as Cuba, with equal success. During the 1960s, for example, Cuba actively supported guerrilla movements that appeared throughout Latin America in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. The Mexican guerrillas, however, received no such help and were easily defeated by the Mexican military. Cuba's nonintervention in Mexico is generally believed to have been the trade-off Mexico received in return for its consistent support of Cuba against the efforts of the United States and other Latin American governments to ostracize it. Mexico's experience with and treatment of leftist movements, therefore, helps explain its apparent complacency toward the possibility of leftist takeovers in Central America.

Moreover, Mexican foreign policy has generally been more progressive than its domestic policy in its support for revolution, social justice and equity. The Mexican government often seems to use a progressive foreign policy as a way of "paying off" leftist groups within the government coalition so that it does not have to make in Mexico the changes demanded by them.

Mexico's skepticism regarding the viability of a democratic solution in Central America also grows out of its own experience. Although Mexicans often refer to their government as democratic, it does not seem so by U.S. standards since the "official" political party is supported by the government and has never lost control of the presidency. While not democratic in the conventional sense, however, Mexico's political system is pluralist, in that power is shared, although not equally, by all major organized interests. Mexico's limited experience with traditional democracy, combined with its sense that its own history is more relevant to Central America than that of the United States, account for Mexico's greater tolerance of a nondemocratic solution for Central America.

Finally, it is important to note that in terms of U.S.-Latin American relations, Mexico clearly identifies with the dependent, vulnerable and long-suffering Latin American countries against the imperialist, hegemonic and interventionist United States. While the predatory and destructive image of the United States may be exaggerated in the case of South America, it is only slightly so regarding Central America. For this reason, many Mexicans feel that until U.S. policy toward Central America becomes more progressive, Mexican policy by necessity must fall to the left of it.

From the U.S. government's perspective there is little argument with Mexico's contention that the old Central American order is no longer viable. The disagreement arises over causes, with the Reagan Administration arguing that leftist revolutionaries, rather than the momentum produced by intangible social forces, mainly account for the current conflagration in the region. For this reason, the United States cannot support the center-left solution sought by Mexico: the radical leftists in such a government would easily eliminate the moderate elements and thereby transform each country into a hostile socialist regime allied with Cuba and the Soviet Union. (Events in Nicaragua since the 1979 Revolution are seen as confirming this point of view.) The United States rejects negotiations over power sharing supported by Mexico for the same reason, contending that the revolutionaries do not reflect the desires of a majority of the Central Americans and would be defeated in fair elections.

Because Mexico's policy toward Central America is so intimately linked with its own past and present, it seems unlikely to change once Miguel de la Madrid becomes president. This does not mean that Mexico is complacent about events in the region. Prolonged political instability at the very least will create a refugee problem for Mexico. (An estimated 20,000 people from Salvador alone sought entry in 1980.) There is also concern that a prolongation of the conflict in Central America will increase the power of the military within the Mexican political system. The recent purchase of F-5s by Mexico is considered by some as evidence that the process has already begun. While the government may see the F-5s as a way of giving the military its fair share of the wealth generated by petroleum sales, the militarization argument has some validity. Continued fighting in Central America, and particularly along Mexico's shared border with Guatemala, will require a better trained, equipped and perhaps more numerous military to keep the guerrillas out of southern Mexico. Even then the difficulties of closing the border should not be underestimated.

If El Salvador and Guatemala have successful revolutions, Mexico's political system will come under even greater strain. Leftist groups within Mexico will feel that history is on their side and pursue more aggressively their demands for a more equitable distribution of Mexico's wealth. Radical leaders may even try to rally dissatisfied peasants and workers to their cause. The Right, on the other hand, would feel threatened by events in Central America and urge that steps be taken to control leftist groups within Mexico. This kind of polarization between the Left and Right occurred during the Cuban Revolution, for much the same reasons. It was ended by a combination of measures that included benefits for workers, peasants and members of "loyal" opposition parties, an increased use of revolutionary rhetoric by the government, repression of left-wing guerrillas and the already mentioned "agreement" that neutralized Cuba. There is no obvious reason why a similar strategy could not be used successfully in the event of leftist victories in Central America. Mexico undoubtedly will be affected by such events, but its political track record to date shows that it is not quite a helpless domino.

While some commentators in both Mexico and the United States believe that continued foreign policy disagreements will not only preclude big cooperative schemes but also obstruct day-to-day negotiations over smaller issues, the importance of the bilateral relationship to both countries makes the latter unlikely. Instead of allowing foreign policy differences to damage the bilateral relationship, Mexico and the United States will probably "agree to disagree" in the area of foreign policy and try to isolate their foreign policy differences as much as possible from other aspects of their relationship. There are limits to such toleration, however. Should the United States decide to send troops into Central America or should Mexico decide to give active support, including weapons and training, to leftist guerrilla movements in the area, the bilateral relationship would be severely impaired.


The United States has often been characterized as a future-oriented country that easily and perhaps conveniently forgets the past. Imaginative, optimistic and even idyllic projections of intense Mexico-U.S. cooperation partially reflect this aspect of our national character. Such positive thinking is probably necessary for achieving an improved bilateral relationship. It becomes counter-productive, however, when carried to the extreme of believing that "the future is now."

Like the United States, Mexico is also preoccupied with the future. But it is also very concerned with redeeming its past. This acute sense of history acts as a constraint against efforts by Mexican presidents to move Mexico toward a closer embrace of its northern neighbor. President López Portillo probably pushed the limits of Mexico's toleration of a more cooperative relationship to their extreme. His decisions to build a gas pipeline to the United States, to grant the Shah of Iran sanctuary, and to sell petroleum to the United States for its strategic petroleum reserve, as well as his deliberate effort to replace the anti-U.S. rhetoric of Mexican government officials with positive remarks, were potentially costly gambles that required political vision, sensitivity and courage. López Portillo's successor will probably continue his efforts to fashion a better relationship with the United States based on mutual respect. In order to do this successfully, he will have to be ahead, but not too far ahead, of the Mexican people.

These considerations, as well as the underlying realities of the bilateral relationship already discussed, lead to the conclusion that if big initiatives are to be proposed, Mexico should propose them. The very act of proposing them would indicate their feasibility on the Mexican side. It would also signal a Mexican belief that the United States was both disposed and able to meet Mexico at least halfway. U.S. policymakers would probably find it difficult to leave the initiative to Mexico, since this would constitute untraditional behavior. But if we expect Mexican leaders to act differently toward us from how they have behaved in the past, we should be willing to make equally profound changes in our own behavior toward Mexico.

In the meantime, much can be done in the United States to increase our receptivity to Mexican initiatives, should they be forthcoming. Any proposal for large-scale cooperation involving the entry of goods and people from Mexico would doubtless affect adversely some U.S. groups and interests. But if people working on U.S. domestic policy and those concerned with Mexico-U.S. relations began talking to each other now, we could minimize the costs and maximize the benefits of any special relationship that might be proposed. This is one U.S. initiative Mexico would welcome.

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  • Susan Kaufman Purcell is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, specializing in Latin America and the Caribbean. She was a member of the Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State, from January 1980 through June 1981. She recently edited Mexico-United States Relations.
  • More By Susan Kaufman Purcell