Mexico Looks to the North

Born in 1883, ISIDRO FABELA, who is an expert on international law, has had a distinguished career in the service of his country. He has been Secretary of Foreign Affairs; envoy plenipotentiary to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Germany; delegate to the League of Nations; confidential agent in England, Spain, France, and Italy; and Mexican member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the Hague. In 1952 he was appointed a judge of the International Court of Justice.

FORTY-THREE years ago I wrote a book called There United States Against Liberty, in which I summarized the serious errors committed by North American imperialistic politicians in Latin America. Since then I have consistently maintained the same point of view in all of my books on international affairs and politics, particularly in The Conference in Caracas and the Anti-Commumstic Attitude of Mexico,The International Politics of President Cárdenas, and Good and Bad Neighbor Policy. In all of my judgments, both moral and political, I have attacked those who wished to extend the domination of any state over another by means of force.

Consistent with this point of view, I was an admirer of the Good Neighbor policy initiated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and of the friendly, energetic, and just policy followed by the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, respected by all the world as a lover of liberty and a man of peace.

I have never written with hostility toward any people, but I have proved myself to be a staunch defender of the principles universally accepted by the countries which are members of the United Nations:

1. Nonintervention of a state in either the domestic or foreign affairs of another.

2. Free self-determination of nations.

3.Equality of governments and of men before the law, without distinction because of race.

I know that people who do not know my background and motivation have considered me to be an enemy of the United States. I protest against this fearsome misrepresentation. I admire the people of the United States for their patriotism, their love of work, their independent spirit, their energy and character. and their full liberty of personal conscience. These qualities are generally innate in citizens of the United States; but United States policy toward Latin-American nations has not always been legally correct, just, moral, or peaceful; on the contrary, it has often been aggressive and unjust. And in The United States Against Liberty I made the charge, backed by documents and authentic proof, that Cuba — at the time when it obtained its independence from Spain — Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin-American countries were all the unfortunate victims of Northern imperialism.

Now, coming to the marrow of this article (Mexican-American relations as I see them), I will say a little about the period that included the long dictatorship of General Díaz, from 1876 to 1911. During those years there was almost no friction between Mexico and Washington. The difficulties that did occur, I should say, were primarily of protocol.

This is logical, because when a powerful government imposes its will on another which is weak and obsequious, serious differences cannot exist.

The noted writer and politician Luis Cabrera confirms my charges when he says:

“In the last days of General Diaz it was impossible to litigate against any foreigner. If he was a Spaniard, his lawyer was Don Iñigo Noriega, who handled his case without charge and always stood in well with the majority of the Supreme Court and even with salaried magistrates. If he was a Frenchman, Limantour defended him. If he was an Englishman, Sir Reginald Tower intervened strenuously. And if he was an American, he had as his patron Henry Lane Wilson. It was public knowledge that day after day a lawyer from the American Embassy stood guard in the corridors of the Supreme Court of Justice to make sure that Americans would not be held — all lawsuits ended in writs of habeas corpus — and to exert his influence in their behalf.

“There is nothing strange, then,”Cabrera goes on to say, “that the unjust privileges in favor of foreigners are counted among the causes of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. And this explains why, during that period until 1913, some foreigners were victimized, with the result that they made severe criticisms against us.”

To counteract the greatly increased investment of American capital in Mexico, General Díaz granted valuable petroleum concessions to the English and signed over huge assets to them with paltry economic return to Mexico, In the face of the economic and political importance of the British investments, the United States reacted with determination and success. There came into my country an avalanche of American capitalists, who through numerous companies acquired vast lands in the principal petroleum zones of Mexico — not always honorably. The owners of the land, under a law passed in 1884, pretended to be the owners also of the subsoil, which had previously belonged to the Spanish Crown and, after Mexico’s independence from Spain, to the republic.

This unpatriotic constitutional change in 1884 was instituted as a result of the pressure from people outside Mexico, and foreigners — especially the North Americans, the Dutch, and the British — gained possession not only of large areas of our territory, but also of the enormous riches of the subsoil, primarily the black gold it contained.

In 1917, under the leadership of Venustiano Carranza, Mexico adopted its new Constitution, which stipulated in Article 27 that the nation would at all times have the right to impose on private-property owners rules dictated by the public interest, in addition to the right to make equitable distribution of natural resources susceptible to appropriation and to care for their conservation. The Constitution claimed for the nation direct jurisdiction over all minerals or substances that in veins, masses, or layers constitute deposits, such as minerals from which are extracted the metals and metalloids utilized in industry; precious stones; salt deposits formed from seawater; mineral or organic materials to be used as fertilizers; solid mineral fuels; petroleum; and all solid, liquid, or gaseous hydrogen carbide.

Since these provisions were extremely disadvantageous to foreign investors, the petroleum companies (all except one) asked for writs of habeas corpus before the federal Supreme Court. In five consecutive opinions, the Court was obliged by the Chief Executive, General Álvaro Obregón, to find in favor of the oilmen, and all companies that had effected positive acts of exploration and execution in their oil fields before 1917 were exempted from complying with the constitutional provisions of Article 27.

In its deliberations on the new Constitution, the constituent Congress had approved Article 27 unanimously, and in particular had specified that the law would be retroactive in order to correct past errors. Nevertheless, in 1923 General Obregón, appropriating powers that he did not have as President of the republic, gave his personal interpretation of Article 27 and declared that it was not retroactive. His acquiescence represented the price exacted in return for the recognition of his government by the United States. The United States, of course, could have refused to recognize the Mexican government by reason of fact, political, legal, or moral; but it should not have imposed conditions for granting recognition which not only would weaken any government, but which in this case did in fact deprive the Mexican people of what they held most dear: their constitutional principles and their domestic freedom.

An earlier serious error that the United States committed against Mexico was the military occupation of Veracruz during 1914, from April 21 to November 23. This transgression caused the death of many hundreds of innocent Mexicans and also of many Americans, who like good soldiers obeyed the orders of their chiefs.

Admiral Henry Thomas Mayo was indirectly responsible for this international offense. Colonel Hinojosa and later General Morelos Zaragoza had given the most courteous apologies to the American authorities for the detention of some sailors from an American ship, and the American Secretary of State considered the apologies satisfactory. Nevertheless, Admiral Mayo, possessed of an inexplicable pride and apparently not foreseeing the consequences, told the usurper, General Victoriano Huerta, to hoist the American flag and salute it with twenty-one cannon shots, a demand with which the Executive justifiably refused to comply. Thereupon President Wilson urged Congress to authorize him to occupy Veracruz and blockade the Mexican coast. This decision of President Wilson was contrary to the opinion of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, who considered the case closed with the apologies presented to the American government.

But the notorious fact was that President Wilson assumed the right to punish Mexico, trampling on its sovereignty by uselessly and tragically invading Veracruz. His action imposed on us, with no justification, the necessity of following a political line dictated by the United States. Naturally our Mexican constitutionalists disagreed, and President Carranza protested to the point of delivering an ultimatum. The issue was resolved when the United States accepted the mediation of the ABC powers, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

SEVENTEEN years passed after the proclamation of our Constitution of 1917 before American policy toward Mexico brought friendly relations between the two nations. The change came about when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man who had a wise and sympathetic attitude toward Mexican interests, became President of the United States.

To both President Roosevelt and his ambassador, Josephus Daniels, Mexico and its people owe gratitude for their recognition of our national sovereignty and of our right to cancel the petroleum concessions given to Dutch, English, and North Americans and subsequently to expropriate the oil fields. This patriotic act imposed by Mexican justice on the expropriated companies for having refused to comply with the orders of our lop judicial authorities was executed by General Lázaro Cárdenas, then president. President Carranza had been the initiator and the legislator of the political economy that was to recover for Mexico, as a sovereign state, direct authority over natural resources, but President Cárdenas got the honor of putting the changes into effect in 1938.

Latin America owes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt the cancellation of the agreement that had formerly given the United States the right to intervene in the internal affairs of Cuba. Roosevelt also ordered the withdrawal of American military forces that guarded the Nicaraguan palace, and Washington abandoned the threats of the big stick and of dollar diplomacy for the friendship of the New Deal. The changes in foreign policy resulted in the arrival in our country of true diplomats, such as Ambassador Josephus Daniels and Ambassador Thomas C. Mann, through whose wise action the procedures were developed that served as the foundation for cordial diplomatic relations. The Chamizal border dispute was satisfactorily resolved last December by an almost unanimous vote in the Senate of the United States — seventy-nine for and one against. On this point the sensible policies of our President Adolfo Lopez Mateos and of the late President Kennedy culminated in the settlement of this long-standing boundary dispute, and the agreement has fortified the friendship between our two countries. I must give recognition both to Mr. Manuel Tello, our chancellor, and to the United States ambassador for the clarification of MexicanAmerican relations.

The harmony of our mutual relations is evident not only in the resolution of the Chamizal question but also in the important financial steps that the United States is taking to maintain our dollar reserves so as to protect the stability of the Mexican peso, the key point in our economy. In addition to acknowledging these helpful actions, I salute the good faith and the confidence that have helped us to secure loans for our economic development from the World Bank, from the Inter-American Bank, and from other official or private banking institutions. These loans bring a constant flow of money to my country for the industrial growth and the improvement of agriculture necessary to satisfy our needs for consumer goods and exports. These loans have a double significance: they create confidence in the national credit of Mexico in foreign countries; and they benefit the Mexican people through increased investments of foreign capital controlled by Mexicans, which create jobs for workers.

We also rely on the help of the United States for funds to assist us to build public housing, another problem affecting the well-being of my compatriots. The members of the Graphic Arts Union of Mexico have received a loan of ten million dollars from the American Federation of Labor. I believe that this kind of financial assistance opens the door to future operations of larger scope, guaranteed by the rising wages received by Mexican workers and by the solid international credit of the Mexican government.

As an essential aid to increasing understanding between our two countries, I must stress the necessity of increasing tourist travel. For North Americans Mexico should have the attraction of a neighbor with an ancient and noble history that combines the graces of manorial life with the comforts of modern living. I should like to mention in passing the Institute of Mexican-North American Cultural Relations, which already has nine thousand students in its classes, and the North American Committee Pro Mexico, both of which are doing laudable work in improving understanding. The development of the Alliance for Progress ts also indispensable for the well-being of all our American states.

But actually, though the economic help coming from North America is of vast importance, the truly essential factor has been that for almost thirty years the United States had not taken Mexico into account, but had maintained a separation both psychological and material. Since the inauguration of the Good Neighbor policy, the Mexican people have been growing closer and closer to the people of the United States, especially since the visit of President Kennedy, who won our hearts.

Forty-three years ago I asked, “Will the future governments of the United States re-establish continental harmony, today plainly and unfortunately broken?" To my question time responded with the voice of President Roosevelt, who in his first inaugural speech in 1933 said, “In the field of world politics, 1 would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor, the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and because he does so, respects the rights of others.”

Five years later, in 1 938. Josephus Daniels said in defense of Mexico’s sovereign rights, “In reality, and though we often do not agree, President Cardenas acted strictly and clearly in accordance with the stipulations of Mexican laws. For many years before the expropriation occurred, the Mexican Constitution had required as a previous condition for foreign commercial activities in Mexico, that they accept ‘clause Calvo’, which required total submission on the part of foreigners to Mexican laws, without resorting to the protection of their respective governments.”

The sympathetic spirit with which Ambassador Daniels conducted himself was the same as that which animated Secretary of State Hull and President Roosevelt. Proof of continuing understanding between Mexico and the United States is revealed in the recent statement of President Johnson, who on ratifying the treaty for the settlement of the Chamizal case said, “This treaty is a model of what should prevail in the resolution of the conflicts of nations.”

Today I am pleased that Mexico and the United States have reaffirmed their good relations, founded on mutual respect for national sovereignty, and that they can face the dangers of totalitarian Communism standing shoulder to shoulder. It is vital that Mexico and the United States speak to one another with complete frankness, in language that both countries understand. I have always been a free man, and I will continue to be one. That is my creed. I cannot accept imperialism in any form, whether it be economic or spiritual. And I am convinced that those who believe that they can dominate the world will fail.


1700-100 B.C. Preclassical, archaic cultures.

1-900 A.D. Classical period. Mayan civilization in Yucatán and Guatemala; Zapotecan civilization in the Valley of Oaxaca. Teotihuacán, City of the Gods, thirty miles northeast of what is now Mexico City, was the ceremonial center that is one of the great question marks in Mexican history. 900-1250 The Toltecs flourished at Tula.

1325-1519 The Aztecs created the greatest empire of their time, dominating the Valley of Mexico and the Indian tribes all the way to Yucatán.

1519 Hernán Cortés landed at Veracruz with five hundred men and sixteen horses. In 1520, he reached Tenochtitlán. later Mexico City, conquered the Aztecs, annihilated their city, and destroyed their culture.

1521 Mexico began three centuries under Spain.

1810—1821 The War of Independence from Spain.

1824 The republic of Mexico was established.

1833—1836 Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana president; became a dictator in 1834. He went to Texas to crush the rebellion; and the slaughter at the Alamo in 1836 was committed under his orders.

in 1836 was 1841 — 1844 Santa Ana president again. Corruption and waste.

1014 The reform movement, under the leadership of Benito Juarez.

1846 War with the United States. In 1848 Mexico ceded 40 percent of all its territory to the United States and received an indemnity of $15 million.

1857 Benito Juarez president.

1858-1861 War of the Reforms.

1864-1867 Brief empire set up with the help of Napoleon III Maximilian of Austria was kept in power through French arms. In 1867, he was executed, and Juarez became chief executive again. 1876-1910 Dictator Porfirio Diaz ruled the republic. Sold land, oil fields, mines to foreign investors.

1910 The Mexican Revolution.

1917 Establishment of the Federal Republic — twenty-nine states, two territories, and the federal district a progressive, humanitarian democracy.

1933 FDR announced the Good Neighbor policy.

1938 Expropriation of foreign-owned companies.

1961 John F. Kennedy announced the Alliance

for Progress.