The U.S. and Mexico: The Bear and the Porcupine

In This Review

The U.S. and Mexico: The Bear and the Porcupine

By Jeffrey Davidow
Markus Wiener, 2004
257 pp. $69.95
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Davidow, U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 1998 to 2002, witnessed the end of 71 years of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the successful election of opposition candidate Vicente Fox to the presidency in 2000. This at times indiscreet memoir provides not only fascinating vignettes of the principal actors in Mexico City, but also sharp profiles of leading U.S. politicians and diplomats as they dealt with the always prickly issues on the U.S.-Mexican agenda, from the border and corruption to U.S. insensitivity to Mexico's concerns and Mexican hypersensitivity to perceived slights. On occasion, Davidow evidently saw himself as the bear, unable to avoid the spines of the Mexican press and politicians. (He describes one former foreign minister as "like an irascible professor who has no patience for those who do not appreciate his insights.")

Among Davidow's many notable contributions in this book is an outstanding brief analysis of migration -- the role of Mexican immigrants in the United States, the reasons why this population increased so dramatically during the 1990s, and the failure, despite an enormous increase in resources and personnel on the U.S. side, to halt these flows. He also gives an insightful account of the circumstances that led to Fox's victory (and the reasons why Mexicans' high hopes have not been fulfilled) and provides fascinating insider detail on the failed attempt by Fox to bring about a comprehensive migration agreement with the United States -- which, Davidow writes, had much less to do with September 11 than previously thought. This vivid account of a vital international relationship, by an ambassador so recently returned from his post, must be unique in its candor. Predictably, it is already being widely discussed in Mexico, where it appeared in Spanish translation, and it deserves an equally wide reading in the United States.