In This Review

American Foreign Policy toward Latin America in the 80s and 90s: Issues and Controversies from Reagan to Bush
American Foreign Policy toward Latin America in the 80s and 90s: Issues and Controversies from Reagan to Bush
By Howard J. Wiarda
New York University Press, 1992, 363 pp.

Few books seem older than collections of articles on yesterday's controversies. Howard Wiarda, who spent much of the Reagan and Bush administrations on the fringes of power at the American Enterprise Institute, faces this dilemma, frankly, in his preface. His justification is that these republished papers will help show "how policy was being made or to influence policy, and they are invaluable both as primary sources and as secondary analysis by those close to power." In fact, Wiarda provides some provocative insights in these pages on the growth and operating practices of the various policy-oriented "think tanks" of Washington.

Among the most controversial of his chapters is a discussion of Mexico, which he describes as an "institutionalized tyranny, or better, a system of institutionalized authoritarianism." He claims that the Mexican presidency "is a position of such vast powers as to rival the ancient Aztec emperors and the Spanish viceroys."

These are not the usual words one expects from a Washington think-tank insider, and although Wiarda prides himself on his historical sensitivity, to compare Salinas to Montezuma (or Montezuma to the Spanish viceroys, for that matter) is excessive to say the least. Wiarda's analysis, however, does serve to raise an uncomfortable question that very few U.S. Mexicanists care to address, which is how successfully can the Mexican regime liberalize politically? Wiarda is not optimistic on this count. This issue has, of course, been studiously avoided in the NAFTA debate thus far. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan summed up the matter with his usual devastating frankness: "Can we have free trade with a country which does not have free elections?" (Yet it should be remembered that Portugal, then a decidedly undemocratic country, was a founding member of the European free trade area.) These questions are likely to come onto the table in the next few months, despite the best efforts by all three North American governments to sweep them away.