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Reading Mexico, Understanding the United States: American Transnational Intellectuals in the 1920s and 1990s

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Jesus Velasco

The history of United States – Mexican relations is a history full of events, images, bargains, anecdotes, and problems. Like any other relationship, it has its ups and downs, although there have been more downs than ups. Throughout all these years of permanent contact, Mexico and the United States have constructed a mutual history, a common past that has shaped our comprehension of each other. This common past clearly had different impacts and implications for each country, but one fact is indisputable: this shared past exists. It is a fragment of history that belongs to both nations, has been with us for centuries, and will remain with us for many years to come.

     There are two moments of this mutual history that I want to explore in this paper: the early 1920s and the early 1990s. Both were periods of a tense and intense bilateral relationship, of an important flow of information between the two countries, of considerable exchanges, negotiations, and disputes. As a facet of the universe of transactions between the two nations, we discover the active participation of some American "public intellectuals," of thinkers who addressed a "general and educated" audience and who "contributed to public discussion."1

     These intellectuals had a deep knowledge of Mexico and strong affiliations with American journals (in the 1920s) and think tanks (1990s). They were intellectually and politically active in both countries. In Mexico, they were in touch with influential politicians and intellectuals and advised governmental elites about the main features of American domestic and foreign policy. In the United States, they spread their opinions on Mexico throughout the labor movement (in the 1920s), the government, and business organizations. Their ideas and policy recommendations impacted both Mexico’s governmental elites and the American big business and governmental community. In both periods, they formed (with the Mexican government) an intellectual lobby that sought to affect American public opinion by disseminating Mexican viewpoints.

     The audience of these intellectuals in the United States was formed by certain sectors of American society (liberals and moderate leftists in the 1920s, free-market groups in the 1990s) that, for their own particular reasons and interests, shared the Mexican perspective. In both historical moments, the interest of those intellectuals in Mexico was not the only cause of their support and promotion of Mexican views. These intellectuals were, in the final analysis, permeated by their own historical context and time and responding to American domestic politics and concerns. For personal, political, or ideological reasons, their perspectives coincided with Mexican agendas. 

     These intellectuals were aware of their national context and of particular historical circumstances. They acted according to their own interests and at the same time internationally. They were, in a nutshell, American transnational intellectuals. The term transnational intellectuals is not common in political or historical discourse. I use it to call attention to the manner in which thinkers and writers interconnected Mexico and the United States through their oral and written words. 

     To study these intellectuals I am drawing on the literature of transnational history. Scholars in this vein of research deplore the ethnocentrism and lack of methodological rigor of diplomatic historians. To change the ethnocentric view, some specialists suggest that American historians "enlarge their horizons" by going abroad and becoming familiar with other countries and histories.2 Others recommend establishing "closer ties between the American and overseas historical communities," searching for "historical themes and conceptions that are meaningful across national boundaries," and becoming more "conscious of how his or her scholarship may translate."3 This perspective alerts us to the relevance of carefully evaluating those particular events in which Mexico and the United States were interconnected. It also compels us to think not only about the United States but also about Mexico, to develop a view that moves across national boundaries in both directions, and to consider the particular historical contexts and circumstances of the periods under analysis.

     The purpose of this paper is to present some findings on the role of American intellectuals as transnational actors linking Mexico and the United States. My first goal is to reveal that American transnational intellectuals are not simply products of recent globalization tendencies. On the contrary, the history of transnational intellectuals is an old history that goes back before the 1920s. People such as John Reed or Frederick Jackson Turner were intellectuals of this type. It is also possible to find the narratives of nineteenth-century travelers and novelists that interconnected Mexico and the United States. My second goal is to show how these intellectuals, in the 1920s and the 1990s, nullified national boundaries and emerged as central vehicles of communication between the two countries. In doing so, they not only helped the Mexican government to promote its interests in the United States, thereby forming an intellectual lobby for the Mexican government, but also advanced their own careers and ideals in their own country. Mexico, therefore, became the vehicle to test their ideas, contrast their view of the United States with another national entity, and enhance their prestige in the United States. In a way, they influenced Mexico and Mexico influenced them.

     This paper has three main sections. First, I analyze the role played by American intellectuals during the Obregon administration, especially during the time of the United States recognition of the Mexican government. Second, I will address their role with regard to the 1990s, particularly during the negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Finally, I conclude by presenting some comparative observations of the two historical cases and the relevance of transnational actors for our comprehension of United States – Mexican relations.

Mexico and American Intellectuals in Search of 
Diplomatic Recognition

In the early 1920s Mexico faced serious political, economic, and social problems. Mexico was concluding the military phase of its revolution and starting what is known as the reconstruction era. On December 1, 1920, Alvaro Obregon became president of a country economically damaged by the revolution and wracked by continuing military insurrections. His administration, therefore, sought to complete the peace settlement initiated by Adolfo de la Huerta and rebuild the country.

     For the United States, relations with Mexico were very tense due to three issues that in turn were legacies of the revolution: "Mexico’s international debt, in default since 1913; foreign claims for damages incurred during the revolution; and the status of oil and other US interests whose property rights were affected by reformist legislations," especially regarding Article 27 of the Constitution of 1917, which claimed all land, water, mines, oil, and so forth for Mexico. For several practical reasons, Mexico’s main international issue was obtaining diplomatic recognition by the American government. Obregon had first to stop the activities of anti-Obregon groups operating on American territory. It was necessary, second, to stop the supply of weapons coming from the United States to anti-Obregon groups and, third, to recuperate credits in the capital markets.4 In the final analysis, recognition of the Obregon government by the United States would enhance Mexico’s stability and pave the way for economic progress.

     The campaign for recognition was necessary because the American political environment was not favorable to Mexico. To ensure American recognition, the Obregon administration not only conducted formal diplomatic negotiations but actively promoted its interests by using other channels of persuasion. To continue Venustiano Carranza’s massive propaganda and lobbyist campaign in the United States, Obregon designed a five-point strategy: 1) conduct a public relations campaign through the Financial Agency of the Mexican Government in New York (FAMNY); 2) form coalitions with domestic interest groups; 3) use American intermediaries to promote its interests (currently known as lobbying); 4) promote Mexican interests by Mexican consulates; and 5) reinforce relations with the Mexican and Mexican American population.5 The campaign was aimed at changing the Mexican image in the United States and persuading American politicians, businessmen, and the population in general that the government would guarantee United States interests in Mexico.

     The main intellectual lobby was composed of radical and liberal thinkers. The Mexican revolution attracted the attention of many American intellectual critics of the United States.6 Such people as Carleton Beals, John Dos Passos, John Dewey, Waldo Frank, Joseph Freeman, Ernest Gruening, Robert Haberman, Katherine Anne Porter, Frank Tannenbaum, Bertram Wolfe, Ella Wolfe, to mention a few, were fascinated with Mexico, its culture, its art, its people, and, in the beginning, with its revolution. These intellectuals found in Mexico the materialization of their ideological principals or dreams: a social revolution, a society uncontaminated by bourgeois materialistic principles, a country of ingenuous peasants and exotic art. In all, a perfect laboratory to observe the birth of the new man.

     In the 1910s and 1920s American intellectuals considdered expatriation "a method of liberation from the Philistinism of the 1920s." Such people as Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Malcolm Cowley, Max Eastman, Matthew Joseph, and Harold Stearns, among others, moved to Europe; others came to Latin America. "The pilgrimage to Paris," asserted Warren I. Susman, talking about the exile of United States intellectuals in France, "was commitment to one’s own time and its special problems in an environment which best permitted the free play of professional, personal, and social experimentation."7 The exodus of American intellectuals to Latin America was motivated by similar reasons.

     In Latin America, Mexico became the paradise of radicals and liberals persecuted for their ideas in the United States and an asylum for draft evaders. "This is a wonderful country," wrote Frank Tannenbaum to his brother in 1922; "It is a country of the future. There is no wonderful spot on the face of the globe that can compare to this." In a similar vein, Ernest Gruening found in Mexico "the rising hum of revolutionary fervor, of a people reborn, of hopes rekindled." Carleton Beals asserted in 1923 to H. L. Mencken, "Mexico is the country of my choice. . . . I have come to love Mexico and the Mexicans, and I only wish that my own people could understand them."8 Mexico, therefore, had to be discovered and explained. The discovery was essential because it would test the ideological convictions of these writers; they hoped it would prove them right and others wrong. Reading Mexico was an excellent mirror for reflecting their own reality, for contrasting the United States with another nation, for learning and assimilating traits of another culture that could be implemented in the United States. Mexico, consequently, should be revealed to Americans.

     The Mexican government had cultivated good relations with American writers since the beginning of the revolution in 1910. John Kenneth Turner is a case in point. Turner came to Mexico in 1908 and became a critic of Porfirio Diaz, a defender of the revolution, and a severe judge of American foreign policy toward Mexico. Turner was well connected with Mexican political elites. He interviewed Francisco Madero (who supported his research with letters of introduction), became an advocate of Venustiano Carranza, and in the 1920s had access to some Mexican ministers such as Minister of Agriculture Antonio Villareal. He wrote for American radical magazines such as Appeal to Reason and Collier’s, although he also published in the Mexican newspaper El Pais. John A. Britton has argued that "Turner’s exposé of workers’ exploitation elicited praise from US leftists." According to Ramon de Negri, the Mexican consul in New York during the time of President Carranza, Turner "received some modest support [small economic aid] for the preparation of this book and printing."9 Turner perhaps honestly and independently was writing in favor of Carranza and against Francisco Villa, but definitely the Carranza administration courted the writer. An interesting topic that needs to be carefully studied is the nexus between American Progressivism and the first Mexican revolutionaries. Mexican leaders such as Francisco Madero and Carranza were northern people, individuals that in one way or another were in contact with American political culture and ideas.

     Obregon continued this tradition. He encouraged friendly relationships with American intellectuals as an additional element of his general strategy to influence the views of American elites and public opinion on Mexico. This relationship was mutually rewarding. Obregon viewed them as the Mexican mouthpiece in the United States, especially as the link between the Mexican government and American liberal and radical organizations. Most radical intellectuals were sympathetic to the Mexican revolution, which made them natural advocates for Mexico in the United States. These intellectuals had important relationships with the labor movement, radical and liberal groups, and journals. They wrote not for a Mexican audience (they rarely published in Spanish), but for the American public. They became the nexus between Mexicans and Americans interested in Mexico. For Obregon, this was an important group, a group that should be encouraged and preserved, a group whose cultivation did not represent a significant cost for his government.

     American intellectuals did not see themselves as mouthpieces of the Mexican government but as disclosers of a wonderful and unexplored world. Mexico fit their dreams and convictions, and therefore they were anxious to penetrate the intricate universe of Mexican politics and culture. In their discovery of Mexico, they were in touch with Mexican political and cultural elites, who at the time were eager to pass on their views. The proximity of American intellectuals to Mexican political elites helped them advance their own careers in the United States. They talked with influential Mexican political actors and obtained from them firsthand information on Mexican politics, a central component of their written and oral interpretations. This information, combined with their personal experience of living in Mexico, became important assets that were very well received in the United States. They promptly became the American specialists on Mexico in a moment of renewed American interest in Mexico’s culture and politics.10

     The views of these intellectuals were, in most cases, constructed independently of the opinion of the Mexican government. Their favorable views of Mexico did not come about because the Mexican government persuaded or forced them. They had their own reasons, motivations, and thoughts, fruits of the United States cultural and political environment of their time, for supporting Mexico. However, their perceptions and judgments of Mexico converged with the interests of the Mexican government, facilitating a fruitful relationship for both parts. In the 1920s, the domestic agendas of American intellectuals and of the Mexican government coincided.

     In the late 1910s and early 1920s, prominent figures such as Carleton Beals, Ernest Gruening, and Frank Tannenbaum visited Mexico and wrote about it in journals such as the Liberator, the New Masses, the New Republic, the Nation, and Collier’s. Other political activists and writers such as Robert Haberman were also very helpful in building a positive image of Mexico in the United States. As leftists, they "saw the Mexican revolution from an entirely different perspective than American diplomats."11

     In Mexico, Beals, Gruening, and Tannenbaum interacted with elites and popular sectors. They had access to ministers such as Plutarco Elias Calles, governors such as Felipe Carrillo Puerto, labor leaders such as Luis N. Morones, cultural figures such as Diego Rivera, and presidents Obregon and, later, Calles. They traveled throughout the country and were in contact with peasants and workers. Most of their articles were written after the Bucareli agreements, which resulted in the United States recognition of Obregon’s government in 1923. During the early 1920s, however, they expressed views against American intervention in Mexican affairs, affirmed the moderate trends of the revolution, and asserted that American property was secure in Mexico.12 Their viewpoints were congruent with Mexican discourse and very much in tune with leftist arguments in the United States against American interventionism. Their articles served to diffuse the Mexican perspective in the United States and to shape opinions on Mexico held by United States elites and the general public.

     Frank Tannenbaum was a great promoter of Mexican interests in the United States. He was a political activist, well known in American radical circles. Tannenbaum was close to the people of the anarchist journal Mother Earth. After Tannenbaum spent a year in prison, Max Eastman offered him a temporary job with the Masses, a radical journal founded by Piet Vlag in 1911.13 Tannenbaum was already a public figure when he was admitted to Columbia University in 1915. There he established good relationships with distinguished professors such as Charles A. Beard, John Dewey, and E. R . A. Seligman.

     In Mexico, beginning in 1922, Tannenbaum functioned as an intermediary between Mexico and the United States in three different ways. First, he arranged interviews between important functionaries of the two countries. Second, he organized bilateral groups that supported Mexican causes. Third, he wrote for different American journals and interpreted Mexico’s history and political process for the American audience. He "tried to arranged a fellowship at Brookings for Daniel Cosio Villegas, and promoted a visit by John Dewey who lectured at the 1926 Summer session of the National University." In 1926 he organized a meeting between United States ambassador "James R . Sheffield, and three Mexican ministers: Morones of Industry, Luis Leon of Agriculture, and Jose Manuel Puig Casauranc of Public Education." He orchestrated an encounter between Morones and the papal delegate, Archbishop George Caruana, and Father R . A. McGowan of the (United States) National Catholic Welfare Conference, in an attempt to abolish the Catholic labor unions. The meeting did not generate the expected results, and the archbishop was later expelled from Mexico.14

     Tannenbaum was extremely impressed with the efforts developed by the Mexican government in the field of education. "The whole educational situation in Mexico," he asserted in 1923, "is exceedingly interesting, probably the most interesting thing in Mexico." His first article on Mexico was about the "miracle school," a community effort in the Colonia de la Bolsa in Mexico City (one of Mexico’s poorest barrios and site of all kinds of criminal activities) to organize a school and gardens. The project in the Colonia de la Bolsa was backed by the government.15

     As Charles Hale has pointed out, education was an important subject for Tannenbaum even before he arrived in Mexico. In the experiment of the Colonia de la Bolsa, however, Tannenbaum found a concrete expression, in another country, of those ideals that he had been forging for many years in the United States. Thus, in his article "The Miracle School," Tannenbaum described the process of self-organization within a particular disadvantaged community to build a school. In this school human beings learned moral values such as honesty and discovered the joy of learning through the solution of day-to-day practical problems. A central idea that Tannenbaum expressed here was the mutual reinforcement of community life and school. "The merging of school and community," Hale asserted, "fit Tannenbaum’s concept of education exactly."16 For Tannenbaum, therefore, it was essential to reveal to the American public the virtues of his views and ideals as they crystalized in Mexico.

     To keep alive the project of the Colonia de la Bolsa, Tannenbaum arranged the Friends of Mexico Committee to raise money in the United States. Some members of this committee included George F. Peabody, Henry Sloan Coffin, Samuel Gompers, Ernest Gruening, and Thomas Mott Osborne. Through this committee, he also collected thousands of books for the Lincoln Library in Mexico City.17 Having Tannenbaum as a promoter and mediator, the committee interconnected American public figures with a very specific cause, education in Mexico.

     Finally, Tannenbaum, like most of his American colleagues living in Mexico, made an effort in his articles to read Mexico for American audiences. This is particularly evident in his introduction to the special issue of Survey Graphic. In 1923 Survey Graphic asked Tannenbaum to prepare a volume on Mexico, in which the articles should be "living forces for the mind of the American readers."18 Among the contributors were Carleton Beals, Plutarco Elias Calles, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Manuel Gamio, Robert Haberman, Katherine Anne Porter, and Jose Vasconcelos. Even the list of contributors shows the broad access of Tannenbaum to Mexican political elites as well as his ability to navigate in both the American and the Mexican worlds. American journals were interested in Mexico, but to link Mexico and the United States, the mediation of people such as Tannenbaum was indispensable.

     Tannenbaum asserted in 1924,

To the average of Americans, Mexico is a great enigma, a place when the unexpected always happens. . . . We know more about Albania, about Armenia, about Afghanistan, than we do about Mexico — and yet to know Mexico is almost a moral obligation. To the United States Mexico is more than a neighbor, more than a different country, more than a field of industrial and commercial exploitation. . . . This appreciation of the meaning of the special character of Mexico has never been so important as it is at present.
For Tannenbaum, therefore, his mission was to reveal the greatness of Mexico to the American readers, to show them, not the "traditional discussion of oil and mining but the more genial Mexico"; he was convinced that Mexico had a future as "a cultural feature that may well prove the greatest Renaissance in the contemporary world."19

     Carleton Beals came to Mexico in 1918. He established friendly relationships with Americans living or traveling in Mexico and with Mexican cultural and political elites. He regarded Obregon as "one of the few statesmen of our era," criticized Morones, considered Vasconcelos a "brilliant" person, Felipe Carrillo Puerto "the Gandhi of the Mayas," and Carlos Chavez a "musical genius." He was especially touched by the Indians because they heavily contrasted with the United States materialistic world. He praised the Obregon administration for its "sincere understanding of the forces that are emerging from indigenous Mexico, which must be given, and are being given, free scope; which have been organized and permitted to contribute to the making of the nation of which they are the most basic part."20 He also enjoyed the simple life in Mexican small villages.

     Beals became a writer in Mexico, and his initial reputation in the United States came from writing on Mexican politics. His study and knowledge of Mexico helped him to develop strong contacts with the American intellectual community. He published in radical journals such as the Liberator and was briefly involved with the New Masses. He had working relationships with Herbert Croly, editor of the New Republic, and Ernest Gruening, managing editor of the Nation, the two most important liberal journals of that time. Beals also served Croly as a "guide to the intricacies of Mexican politics."21 But Beals’s contact with Croly and his subsequent contributions to the New Republic also exposed him to intellectuals associated with the publication. The contributors to the New Republic were the "most illustrious intellectuals in the English-speaking world," and the readers of the journal were American elites. Like most American intellectuals writing on Mexico, Beals’s "primary target was the reading public of the United States."22

     Beals also served as adviser for Norman Thomas, the leader of the American Socialist party. In 1928 Thomas asked Beals for advice on government repression of the Cristero movement in Mexico. According to John A. Britton, Thomas was very impressed with a letter sent by Beals and used Beals’s ideas in a statement. "In the last analysis," Thomas argued, "I have always believed that the government of Calles was right. I believe that its decrees have been unnecessarily restrictive. However, there is a justification for these decrees that does not exist in the case of open cruelty." Beals sent Calles a translation of Thomas’s discourse, perhaps as a way to show him the echo of the Mexican voice in the United States.23 But Beals was doing more than that: he was connecting the world of politics of two different societies. He was breaking barriers; he was acting as a transnational intellectual.

     Ernest Gruening is another example of a transnational intellectual. He was a writer, a journalist, and managing editor of the Nation. Gruening was dedicated to the dissemination of ideas in the United States. He wrote for different magazines and newspapers and had permanent relations with American intellectuals. He arrived in Mexico in 1922 and promptly established communication with President Obregon. Obregon was aware of the importance of promoting Mexico in the United States and immediately opened his doors to the journalist. Gruening had extraordinary access to Obregon, perhaps more than any Mexican journalist had. They got together several times under different circumstances, which gave Gruening unusual insight into the Mexican president. As a result of these interviews, Gruening wrote an article for Collier’s in which he described Obregon as "one of the most enlightened public figures of our time."24

     Gruening also had direct and unusual access with Plutarco Elias Calles, who became president in 1924. Gruening wrote an article for Century Magazine in 1925 based on their numerous conversations, which gave his words more credibility. Gruening praised Calles and predicted that "Calles will give the Mexican people the cleanest, the most vigorous, the most progressive administration it has ever had." Moreover, Gruening urged both Americans and Mexicans to unite behind Calles in the "stimulating endeavor to help realize the long deferred dream of a happy and flourishing Mexico, consonant with the superb gifts that nature has lavished upon her."25

     Gruening became a friend and, indirectly, adviser of Calles. They exchanged letters in which Gruening expressed openly his opinion of Mexican affairs, American politics, and United States – Mexican relations. On August 31, 1923, the day the United States reestablished relations with Mexico, Calles, then minister of the interior, responded to a letter written by Gruening on August 18 with the following words: "I agree with you that [Calvin] Coolidge will follow [Warren G.] Harding’s policy in international affairs, and will accept and follow the advice of Mr. [Charles E.] Hughes. I agree with you that Hughes’ policy will be highly beneficial, not only for Mexico but also for the United States."26

     On another occasion, Gruening alerted Calles to anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States. "There is one thing that I want you to remember," asserted Gruening on June 21, 1924, "that the anti-Callist propaganda continues here . . . it is not dead." Movie theaters, he said,

showed news of the parade of May 1 in which the headlines were "demonstrations of the reds for their candidate Calles" and "portrait of General Calles as Bolshevik candidate. . . ." These pictures are shown in million of places. . . . The Chicago Tribune continues to publish unfavorable articles on the case of Ms Evans in Puebla. These articles are published not only in the Tribune but in other newspapers around the country. . . . The aim of the Tribune is quite evident — to pursue an offensive campaign against Mexico.
Gruening finished his letter by arguing that it was very important to "avoid the strengthening of these anti-callista efforts that deceive and separate both countries."27 Gruening, therefore, was not only reading Mexico for the American audience; he was also advising Mexican politicians of anti-Mexican tendencies in the United States. He was connecting the two countries with his ideas and opinions.

     Robert Haberman, a radical journalist and activist, lobbied for Mexico in the American labor movement and with liberal and radical political figures in the United States. Haberman went to Yucatan in 1917, when he worked with and advised Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the leader of the Socialist party in Yucatan who became governor of the state in 1922. Haberman wrote articles with Tannenbaum and Beals and had access to Mexico’s most influential political leaders. He worked directly for the Mexican government and received a salary for his services. He had the absolute confidence of Calles, who defended him in 1922 against accusations of treachery.28 During the Obregon administration, Haberman traveled constantly to the United States promoting the diplomatic recognition of Mexico.

     Haberman formed a fundamental link between the Confederacion Obrera Mexicana (CROM) and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). During World War I, the leader of the AFL, Samuel Gompers, favored the creation of the Pan American Federation of Labor (PAFL), an organization "conceived by Gompers as an instrument for dominating the Latin American labor movement."29 In 1918, an AFL delegation visited Mexico to talk with CROM leaders about PAFL. Mexican labor leaders disapproved the initiative but agreed to established conversation in Washington and Laredo with the AFL. The meeting between AFL and CROM provoked serious disputes within the Mexican labor movement. The establishment of PAFL was one of the reasons for the withdrawal of anarchists and other radical organizations from CROM in 1920 and 1921. PAFL was also condemned by American radical thinkers. In 1924 Bertram Wolfe spoke of Gompers in El Machete, the official publication of the Mexican Communist party, as an "agent of Yankee imperialism." For him, Gompers and PAFL wanted to prevent Latin American workers from organizing "a revolt against the brutal attacks of imperialism. To carry his mission," Wolfe added, Gompers had the assistance of "CROM leader Luis Morones and Robert Haberman, who was the mediator between Gompers and Morones traveling permanently between Washington, D.C., and Mexico, D.F."30

     Mexico became a central piece of Gompers’s ambitions. Haberman supported the PAFL and played an important role in Gompers’s determination to defeat radical expressions in Mexico. Thus, "one of Haberman’s responsibilities to the AFL was to spy on radicals in the Mexican labor movement."31 In this way, Haberman promoted himself in the United States and interconnected the two countries. He became one of the political elites in both the United States and Mexico.

     Although in the 1920s the American labor movement was losing membership, Obregon considered Gompers and the AFL valuable allies of the Mexican government for at least two reasons. First, since the end of the nineteenth century, the AFL was a permanent opponent of American interventionism. Therefore, the AFL could work as a pressure group against United States invasion and intervention in Mexico. Second, the leaders of the AFL were excellent intermediaries between the Mexican government and American politicians, helping Mexican leaders arrange meetings with their American counterparts.32 The Mexican government did not have overwhelming support within American society and political and economic organizations; on the contrary, it was considered to be Bolshevik by different agencies of the American government. Mexico, therefore, had to defend its interests in the United States with the assistance of all possible allies. The declining AFL was a powerful one.

     The Mexican government also approached American business sectors. Small and medium businesses were interested in investing in and establishing commercial relations with Mexico; for them, American recognition of the Mexican government was vital for the development of effective commercial activities. On the other hand, the adversaries of recognition were people or organizations with significant investments in Mexico, especially in oil. They were disturbed by Mexico’s Bolshevik trends and considered that American properties in Mexico were at risk. Obregon obtained the support of the first group and the disapproval of the second.33

     Haberman’s contacts with Samuel Gompers and the AFL was of great value to the Obregon administration. Haberman spoke to different labor organizations in the United States, adapting his speech according to the audience. In May 1922 he addressed the Pennsylvania state Federation of Labor convention; he maintained, altering the facts, that Mexico had "a government controlled by the working people." His speech was so effective that he was invited to talk again at a mass meeting. Moreover, Calles was assured that at the "next meeting of the [Erie] Central Labor Union, secretaries of all local unions would be instructed to write [their] senators and local congressman demanding that President Harding and Secretary Hughes recognize the Mexican government."34

     Haberman was the emissary of Calles to Gompers. In June 1921, after talking with the leader of the AFL, Haberman wrote a letter to Calles claiming that what contributed to the support of the AFL was the "decision taken by you and Don Adolfo [de la Huerta] to favor the purchase of union products and to establish a Mexican industrial bureau in Washington." Gompers, the AFL, and its newspapers broadly supported the recognition of Mexico; in 1922, Gompers declared: "Mexico is entitled to recognition as an act of justice." According to Carlos Macias Richard, a Mexican historian, the "leaders of railroad labor organizations affiliated with the AFL were the intermediaries for Mexico’s purchase of American trains and equipment. The purchase of such goods was seen as the ‘payment’ to the propagandist activities of the labor movement."35

     It is quite possible, however, that the AFL had other reasons to back Mexico. In a political moment in which the "business of America was business," it was natural that labor organizations expressed some opposition to Harding’s official policies. The AFL was interested in Mexican political stability, because an unstable Mexico would propel immigration to the United States, thereby lowering workers’ salaries. AFL leaders were permanently against the uncontrolled arrival of foreigners, and in the 1920s, when immigration was a prominent and controversial political issue in the United States, the organization opposed Mexican immigration and endorsed anti-immigration laws. As a matter of fact, immigration became a problematic issue within the PAFL, and in 1922 it was a topic discussed by Morones with the AFL Executive Council and the officers of PAFL.36 Therefore, the opposition between labor and capital and the fear of the arrival of cheap Mexican labor in the United States were two additional reasons for AFL support for the recognition of Mexico.

     Haberman also worked closely with Jose W. Kelly, an AFL organizer, to change William Randolph Hearst’s anti-Mexican position. According to Lorenzo Meyer, at the end of 1921, Hearst came to Mexico and had a meeting with Obregon. Since that moment Hearst and his newspapers backed Mexico’s recognition. Before the Obregon-Hearst interview, however, Kelly and Haberman were working to change Hearst’s perspective. Kelly reported in a letter to Calles on August 30, 1921, that he, with some labor leaders, had initiated a campaign in Washington to persuade Hearst to change his opinion. According to Kelly, "we communicated with the central boards of workers in all the towns where Hearst had newspapers. After telling them all we know about Mexico we insisted on pressuring Hearst’s local newspapers. You have seen the outcome: such a complete change has never been seen in history. Only three weeks ago, Hearst was asking for intervention, today he strongly supports recognition."37

     Haberman connected Mexico and the United States in at least four different ways. First, he advised Mexican politicians on implementing certain policies in the United States. Second, he wrote several articles supporting the administrations of Obregon and Calles and rejecting American interventionism. Third, he helped establish linkages between the American and Mexican labor movements and facilitated the promotion of Mexican interests in the United States by the AFL. Fourth, he defended Mexican interests in the United States and, at the same time, supplied information to the Justice Department and the American labor movement about Mexico. Haberman is an excellent example of a broker, of a person who removed all barriers, working as a political and intellectual entrepreneur in both countries. He linked Mexico and the United States at different spheres and levels of their political, intellectual, cultural, and economic worlds. In doing so, he always advanced his own personal ambitions.

     Historically, this episode shows that in the 1910s and 1920s a particular kind of intellectual, thinkers who served as bridges between Mexico and the United States, emerged. In a way, these thinkers were international intellectuals, people interested in Mexico as a case study that tested their ideological viewpoints and commitments. They believed that Mexico could reveal something important for the United States. For the radicals, Mexico was perhaps an interesting laboratory to observe the birth of the new man and the transition from capitalism to socialism. Mexico also fulfilled their longtime aspirations to merge art and politics.

     John Patrick Diggins has asserted that the "Lyrical radicals went further than any previous generation in attempting to fuse politics and art." Eugene E. Leach has argued in talking about the Masses that what was deeper "in Eastman and his comrades was the desire to marry art and politics." John Britton considers Carleton Beals a member of this lyrical left.38 For liberals, Mexico was an interesting experiment in observing transformations and reforms that could be implemented in the United States without a revolution. Richard Pells has sustained that Herbert Croly’s ideas in The Promise of American Life (1909) "served as the point of departure for an entire generation of writers who believe that America could be fundamentally transformed without having to endure a violent revolution." In a similar vein John A. Britton has argued that in the 1920s people like Herbert Croly and John Dewey "keep the vitality of reform alive . . . and for a while, turned to Mexico as a case study in state-directed social change."39 Mexico, therefore, was the instrument that permitted them to advance their own intellectual, political, and ideological agendas.

Mexico and American Think Tanks in the 
Promotion of NAFTA40

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, United States – Mexico relations were once again intense. The intensity was not the result of the Mexican revolution or the security of American economic investments in Mexico, but the difficulties generated by the formal negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Unlike in the 1920s, when the interests of the two governments diverged, during these years the policies of their administrations converged. Like in the 1920s, we witnessed again the emergence of American transnational intellectuals, of thinkers who interconnected Mexico and the United States. 

     In the 1990s, these intellectuals were not liberals and radicals, as they had been in the 1920s, but moderate liberals and conservatives who were associated with liberal and mainly conservative think tanks. These think tanks had, for their own particular reasons, institutional policies that favored free trade, sometimes even before the beginning of the NAFTA negotiations. In the 1990s the interests of the Mexican government and American think tanks and their intellectuals coincided, producing another historical episode of our mutual past. 

     For the administration of Carlos Salinas, NAFTA was a vital element of its economic project. Like in the 1920s, Mexico developed a strategy of persuasion for United States decision makers and American social groups, this time to support a free trade agreement with Mexico. Along the lines followed in the 1920s, in the 1990s the Mexican strategy to promote NAFTA consisted of four basic points: a Mexican lobby; the promotion of Mexican interests by Mexican consulates; the reinforcement of relationships with the Mexican American community in the United States; and the use of American think tanks as intermediaries of the pro-NAFTA and pro-Mexican views.

     My analysis centers on five think tanks: The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for International Economics, and the Brookings Institute. I focus on these think tanks because, according to the Mexican officials I interviewed, they were the most relevant to NAFTA.

     Mexico used think tanks to develop congressional relations and to communicate the benefits of NAFTA. The Salinas administration was aware of the preponderant role that Congress would play in the approval of NAFTA, especially after the authorization of the fast track. Through the congressional affairs office in its Washington embassy, Mexico followed congressional hearings, made contact with staffers and legislators, established a pro-NAFTA campaign in states and districts, and examined, on an ongoing basis, those themes that could affect the negotiations. The Mexican Office of Free Trade Negotiations in Washington, together with the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, evaluated the positions of different American legislators and located the undecided with the aim of conducting pro-NAFTA campaigns in their districts or states. Mexican officials considered think tanks would play a central role because of their close contact with staffers and legislators and because they were active in organizing study groups with congressmen and business organizations.

     Think tanks were considered a perfect vehicle for disseminating the Mexican views to American elites and opinion leaders for three reasons. First, think tanks influence opinion leaders; second, because its members are often opinion leaders themselves; and, third, because they can penetrate to American economic and political elites with their ideas and viewpoints. Think tanks were, in sum, a fine vehicle to counteract negative information about Mexico that was being disseminated by anti-NAFTA organizations. According to a then high-ranking Mexican politician who asked to remain unnamed, "Mexico’s communications campaign was specifically directed to elites and opinion leaders." In his view, Mexico did not have enough resources and time "to go to the general public. In future negotiations we have to penetrate to the general public through local radio and T.V. stations."41

     A central component of the "strategy with think tanks and academics," asserted the same politician, was to "provide them with firsthand information." Academics and think tank analysts were important because they "became sources for people who were writing newspaper articles on Mexico. If somebody was writing for the New York Times or the Washington Post the first thing that they did was to call CSIS to find an expert on Mexico and to ask him or her about any Mexican topic. That worked well for us. We were very interested that those experts had the information of what exactly was going on in Mexico."42

     The role that in the 1920s radical and liberal intellectuals played in unions and magazines was replaced in the 1990s by academics and think tanks. Rosalva Ojeda, a former Ministry of Foreign Relations official, pointed out that "academics were an excellent vehicle to promote both Mexico and the benefits of free trade." In her view, academics performed a role that "neither a Mexican politician nor a businessman can accomplish. It is not the same for an official from SECOFI [the Secretariat of Commerce and Industrial Development] to talk to a group of Americans, as it is for United States researchers to address a particular audience. Academics are persons who have studied, who are independent, and who after some time of deliberation are convinced that something is good." In a similar vein, Hermann von Bertrab, Director of the Mexican Office of Free Trade Negotiations in Washington, argued: "We could not sell NAFTA to the Americans because we were not credible. The selling of NAFTA to the Americans had to come from the Americans." In the United States, "think tanks had a lot of credibility."43

     Mexico established its first communication with think tanks and academics during 1988 – 1989, the first year of the Salinas administration. Some of President Salinas’s closest associates attended American universities. During their stay in the United States, they not only became more sensitive to basic traits of the American political system but also established good contacts with important members of the academic community. The friendships between Carlos Salinas and Wayne Cornelius and between Jaime Serra Puche and Clark Reynolds clearly illustrate this point. 

     Some think tankers and academics emerged as prominent architects in the diffusion of the Mexican views in the United States. Delal Baer, Nora Lustig, Gary Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott, Sidney Weintraub, and Michael Wilson, to mention but a few, became both mouthpieces of the Mexican government and American forces behind NAFTA. These scholars were not necessarily carrying out the demands of the Mexican government. In most cases, they were convinced of the benefits of a free trade agreement and responding to the pro-NAFTA institutional policy of their think tanks.

     The think tanks studied in this paper had their own reasons for supporting NAFTA. Domestic considerations were the driving force behind their pro-NAFTA activities. In other words, the espousal of a pro-NAFTA agenda by these institutions had little to do with the coincidental fact that this was in the interests of the Mexican government. These think tanks were created or supported by conservative corporations, corporate leaders, and foundations. They endorsed NAFTA not only out of a rational conviction or ideological preference but also because free trade represented the interests of some of their donors. The relationships among American corporations, foundations, think tanks, and academics are a complex topic in which a direct linkage is difficult to establish conclusively. An effort of such magnitude goes beyond the confines of this paper. As an extremely preliminary form of illustration, however, let me list some corporations that supported NAFTA and funded the Brookings Institution and the CSIS.

     In the 1990s, Brookings’ board of trustees was composed of important corporate leaders, some of them from pro-NAFTA companies, such as James D. Robinson III, chairman of the board, American Express Company; Frank T. Cary, (honorary since 1987) chairman of the board and chief executive officer, IBM Corporation; Kenneth W. Dam, vice president, law & external relations, IBM Corporation; Thomas G. Labrecque, chairman and chief executive officer, Chase Manhattan Corporation and Chase Manhattan Bank; Stephen Friedman, vice chairman and co-chief operating officer, Goldman, Sachs, and Company; and Charles W. Duncan Jr., president, Coca-Cola Company. A few of the corporations that supported NAFTA and fund CSIS are Amoco Corporation, Ashland Oil, Inc., Atlantic Richfield Company, the Boeing Company, Exxon Corporation, FMC Corporation, General Dynamics Corporation, General Electric Company, Merrill Lynch & Company, Inc., Mobil Corporation, Motorola, Inc., Rockwell International Corporation, Texas Instruments, Inc., United Technologies Corporation, and Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

     Several corporations that endorsed NAFTA also financed think tanks. This fact reveals that ideas — in this case pro-NAFTA views — often have material interests and are not an unadulterated product. In their long journey to the political sphere, ideas receive the mediation of multiple actors. Corporations do not necessarily govern the opinions of think tanks, but corporations support think tanks with ideologies similar to theirs.44 In the early 1990s, the interests of the Mexican government and those of American think tanks and their intellectuals converged. The outcome of this convergence: a pro-NAFTA "marriage of convenience." 

     These think tankers, like the writers in the 1920s, played, at least for a short period of time, the role of transnational intellectuals. They were active in both countries. They advised the Mexican authorities on the best way to sell NAFTA in the United States, and they sold their knowledge and their contacts with Mexican authorities to the American audience. In the 1990s the United States was thirsty for knowledge about Mexico. Think tankers provided enough to please their customers.
The relationship of Mexico with Delal Baer exemplifies the modus operandi of the Mexican government and the role assigned by Mexico to these intellectuals. According to a second high-ranking politician who also requested to remain un-named, in the 

particular case of Delal, I asked her directly: do you believe in a free trade agreement? Her answer was yes. When I knew that she was on our side, I decided to present myself as more ignorant than I really was. I determined to ask her openly, where would you start?; what are the most convincing political, economic, and commercial arguments that we have to present?; what does the message have to be? She and many others like Sidney Weintraub became our advisers.45
It is quite possible that Mexican officials knew more than they were willing to admit. However, ignorance was a "weapon of the weak."

     Delal Baer and Sidney Weintraub also mobilized other American scholars in support of NAFTA. In March and April 1991, at the time when opponents of the fast track approach were increasing in number, Baer and Weintraub sent a letter to several academics who specialized in Mexico. According to Jose Luis Bernal of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, "circulating the letter was a project, if not arranged, at least discussed among Mexican officials and American academics. I do not know when we agreed to circulate the letter, but I can assure you that it was something that we in the embassy discussed with American think tankers and academics as their contribution to the process of getting NAFTA approved." In the letter Baer and Weintraub asserted that the future of NAFTA was "in jeopardy" and that the "voice of the U.S. scholarly community could be helpful." They argued that the institutional affiliation of each signatory "will be listed for identification purposes only."46

     Baer and Weintraub sent two letters to specialists on Mexico, academics and think tankers who might support NAFTA. The first, signed by Baer and Weintraub, advocated publicly supporting NAFTA. Attached to this letter was the letter that was ultimately sent to Congress. The signers of this second letter asserted that they did not "represent any special interests. Our only motive in sending this letter," they claimed, was "to promote the national U.S. interest." They rejected what they considered the three non-measurable arguments of the opposition: "1) Mexico would have an ‘unfair’ advantage because of its wage rates; 2) the economic development of Mexico would pollute the environment; and 3) Mexico is not a democracy in the U.S. mold and therefore is not worthy of such an agreement."47

     Baer and Weintraub argued that "better education" and not low wages were the "hallmark of trade success." They also claimed that "Mexico’s environmental laws [are] similar" to those of the United States but "the country lacks the resources to enforce them." Nonetheless, Baer, Weintraub, and the other letter signatories supported the incorporation of some environmental issues. Finally, they maintained, political choices in Mexico had recently expanded. Moreover, they asserted that the "free trade agreement would give an impulse to political democracy that cannot be achieved by outside exhortation or flagrant U.S. interference in Mexican domestic affairs. This latter approach is the surest way to stifle the growing democratic impulse in Mexico."48 The academic moralization of Baer and Weintraub helped to legitimate NAFTA in both countries and delighted pro-NAFTA tendencies in Mexico and the United States.

     The scholars who spearheaded these pro-NAFTA activities were well rewarded by the Salinas administration. As in the 1920s, Mexico offered them enormous access to both political elites and information and paid them to visit Mexico to get acquainted with the country and meet governmental officials. There they obtained firsthand information on Mexico’s economic and political conditions and an inside view of the strategy to improve the economy and promote NAFTA. This information was subsequently used in their lectures and writings in the United States. As in the 1920s, the main target of these intellectuals was not Mexico, but the United States. They wanted to have an impact on American society, and they wanted to be recognized in their own country. Thus, as our second anonymous prominent politician asserted, we offered these people the chance "to sparkle, to display their knowledge."49

     Delal Baer of CSIS broadly shared this view. A few months before the declaration of the Mexican politician cited above, she wrote an article in the Mexican newspaper Reforma, in which she expressed similar ideas. "To be a Mexicanist," she asserted,

is to be a public figure, an "opinion leader." It was not always like this. Ever since the beginning of the debate over NAFTA and Mexican democratization, to be a Mexicanist is to have a certain weight in the halls of the United States Congress, in the media, in the financial markets, in the political evolution of Mexico, and in the bilateral relationship. Everything that we say, each work we take on occurs in a polemical context. These are qualitative changes in being a Mexicanist. Given these changes, our thoughts now matter.50

     Different agencies of the Mexican government also donated money to think tanks. According to Jose Luis Bernal, Mexico contributed to the general support of these organizations but not necessarily to individuals. One scholar reported, however, that "Mexican officials offered him money for his commitment to write pro-NAFTA articles." Similar offers had been made to the intellectuals in the 1920s. According to the monthly report of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, the Mexican ambassador contributed to the Interamerican Dialogue, a Washington, D.C., research and advocacy organization that favored NAFTA.51 In American society, ideas often need to be funded to have a voice, and the Mexican government had the money to make them resonate.

     As has been noted, the Mexican government established a close link with key researchers in different think tanks: Nora Lustig at Brookings; Delal Baer at CSIS; Alan Reynolds at the Hudson Institute; Fred Bergsten, Jeffrey Schott, Gary Hufbauer at the Institute for International Economics; and Michael Wilson at the Heritage Foundation. These individuals and their respective think tanks organized various events and encouraged the work of study groups. A 1990 report from the Mexican Embassy in Washington demonstrates its commitment to such joint programs: "The intense participation of officials of this Embassy in different forums, seminars, conferences, etc., organized or co-sponsored for universitites in collaboration with Mexican entities or the Embassy have represented one of the main tools of the integral promotion of our country in the United States."52 Mexico usually provided information to think tanks and arranged the participation of high-ranking politicians in their conferences, while the think tanks were responsible for organizing the events.53

     Often the Mexican government took the initiative, using academic institutions and think tanks to fight against anti-NAFTA forces. The manner in which the Mexican government usually acted was clearly described by the Mexican ambassador in Washington, Gustavo Petricioli, in a fax sent to Minister of Foreign Affairs Fernando Solana on January 15, 1991. Petricioli reported the opinions expressed in a conference held in an auditorium of the American Congress entitled "US-Mexico Free Trade — Opening the Debate." According to him, the meeting was "organized and supported by several poorly known organizations, and some perhaps nonexistent, linked to the AFL-cio." For Petricioli the event had a clear anti-NAFTA spirit. To counterbalance the negative effects of this event, Petricioli suggested to Solana:

1) that in some way, a Mexican public figure makes clear to the public that this was not an event sponsored by Congress, and that the participation of the latter did not go beyond offering a place for the conference. Although it is true that the three U.S. representatives (Bruce, Pease, and Kaptur) participated in this event, they are well known for their protectionist position in trade issues, for representing union interests, and for their links with Mexicans who oppose the agreement. For months now, they have worked in Congress to boycott these agreements in complicity with these Mexicans.
2) To organize, in the short run, a similar exercise in Washington, which will expose the advantages and merits of the agreement, with the participation of distinguished Mexican experts and public officials as well as U.S. public officials, academics, and legislators. This event could be coordinated and organized by the Embassy, but would need to be sponsored by another type of institution.54
Petricioli never mentioned a particular institution, but it was quite evident that think tanks were ideal candidates.

     Petricioli’s fax is quite revealing for several reasons. First, it shows that the Mexican government was very interested in disseminating a pro-NAFTA perspective both in Mexico and in the United States, but it was concentrating its activities in the United States, as is shown in table 1. Second, if Petricioli considered irrelevant the organizations and impact of the conference in the United States, why should the Mexican government have to counterattack by investing money, resources, and time in a similar meeting? Third, it is clear that the Mexican authorities were confident of their abilities to manipulate public opinion, mobilizing academics and politicians behind a common cause. Thus, with this type of event, Mexico sought to affect the political environment and to contribute to the creation of public opinion favorable to the free trade agreement.

     It is interesting to observe that the Mexican voices against NAFTA acted in a similar fashion, establishing relationships with American individuals and organizations with analogous interests and ideology. The opposition to NAFTA, in other words, also behaved transnationally. To present a comprehensive picture of the nexus between the Mexican and American rivals of NAFTA goes beyond the limits of this paper. As an illustration, however, let me disclose a few episodes of a very complex tale.

     The main Mexican organization against NAFTA was La Red Mexicana de Accion Frente al Libre Comercio (Mexican Action Network on Free Trade, RMALC). This association, composed of unions, women’s organizations, intellectuals, and ngos (nongovernmental organizations), maintained close contact both with Canadian groups such as Canadian Common Frontiers Project and the Action Canada Network and with American unions and associations such as the United Auto Workers, the Mobilization on Development, Trade, Labor, and Environment (MODTLE), the Fair Trade Campaign, and Citizens Trade Watch. These organizations released joint declarations and organized meetings to exchange information and formulate common strategies. The conference "La Opinion Publica y las Negociaciones del Trado de Libre Comercio: Una Alternativa Ciudadana" (Public Opinion and the Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: A Citizens’ Alternative), held in Zacatecas, Mexico, on October 25 – 27, 1991, is only one of many examples.55

     Several Mexican intellectuals participated actively in RMALC. Adolfo Aguilar Zinser (currently a senator), Alberto Arroyo, Jorge G. Castaneda, and Jose Luis Calva, among others, expounded views critical of NAFTA. Their opinions did not always coincide with the stated policy of RMALC. Aguilar Zinser and Castaneda, for example, did not reject the idea of a free trade agreement, but they opposed the particular accord negotiated by the governments of Mexico and the United States. RMALC, on the contrary, opposed NAFTA. Despite these differences, RMALC and these intellectuals established a very fruitful working relationship.

     Some Mexican intellectuals critical of NAFTA had relationships with American intellectuals and think tanks. According to Aguilar Zinser, he, along with Jorge Castaneda and other intellectuals, established links with institutes related to American unions, with university professors such as Harley Shaiken of the University of California at Berkeley, and with John Cavanas and the Institute of Policy Studies, an anti-NAFTA think tank. Carlos Heredia (then a leader of RMALC and currently a member of the House of Deputies) agreed with Aguilar Zinser’s view and added that RMALC also established relationships with the Economic Policy Institute, in particular Jeff Faux, with Ralph Nader, and with unions and environmentalist organizations. Likewise, anti-NAFTA advocates published or reprinted articles by Mexican intellectuals.56

     Thus, the opponents of the agreement also removed national barriers to form coalitions with their peers in the United States. Mexican intellectuals critical of NAFTA reached out to their American counterparts to form a transnational coalition of intellectuals to spread and publicize anti-NAFTA opinions and arguments. In the early 1990s, the establishment of a transnational alliance was a method used by friends and foes of NAFTA to defend their viewpoints.

     The NAFTA negotiations show us again that transnational intellectuals and their institutions (think tanks) were important bridges between Mexico and the United States. In a way, the nature of NAFTA as a multinational agreement facilitated their work. The pro-NAFTA thinkers advanced an ideology that in the final analysis proclaimed the breakdown of barriers and the linking of the two economies. Their task was to reinforce, with persuasive arguments, what was implicit in their ideological position: capital and interests can move across national boundaries. The anti-NAFTA intellectuals and organizations, on the other hand, also formed a transnational alliance to defend the opposite view: the displacement of capital and interests from one nation to another is problematic and often undesirable.

Final Considerations

Throughout this paper, I have shown that in the 1920s and 1990s we witnessed the emergence of American transnational intellectuals. In both historical periods, these intellectuals performed two basic functions. First, they were the eyes through which the American society and political elites saw and learned about Mexico. Second, they were the educators of Mexican politicians about the United States. They were the vehicle that made possible events of transnational history.

     The dialogue established by these intellectuals was shaped by Mexican and American domestic politics. The Mexican revolution and NAFTA were moments of profound and intense relationship between the two governments. In the 1920s Mexico was creating the new Mexican state. To achieve its consolidation, the government desperately needed American recognition. The United States, on the other hand, was defending the interests of American investors in Mexico. In the 1990s, Mexico was not building but redefining its state, and NAFTA became a central ingredient of Salinas’s economic policy. In the United States, different businesses were interested in going abroad or strengthening their presence there. In each country, governmental, economic, and cultural elites and the society in general demanded explanations from the other. American intellectuals filled this vacuum. In doing so, they became important protagonists of these historical episodes.

     In the 1920s Mexico was to the left of the United States. Alvaro Obregon, undoubtedly, was more radical than Warren G. Harding, and the State Department and some business firms were seriously concerned about "Bolshevik" Mexican tendencies. In the 1990s, by contrast, Mexico was to the right of the United States, and instead of menacing United States economic interests, Mexico favored important American business sectors. It is not strange, therefore, that in the 1920s, some of the main supporters of Mexico were radical and liberal intellectuals, the labor movement, and small and medium business sectors, while in the 1990s, Mexico formed a coalition with conservative groups and business organizations and had as a main opponent the labor movement.

     In the 1920s, the transnational dialogue developed by intellectuals was less institutionalized. During those years, Carleton Beals, Ernest Gruening, and Frank Tannenbaum were fundamentally ideological sympathizers, people captivated by the revolution, and individuals who believed in Mexico’s political future. Their basic institutional affiliations were journals. In the 1990s, the main mouthpiece of Mexico was not individuals, but institutions, American think tanks. In the 1920s think tanks were incipient organizations, in the 1970s they became relevant, and in the 1990s they were fully developed.57 During the NAFTA negotiations, the think tanks studied in this paper, with their infrastructure, contacts, modern technology of communication, and political power, advocated for NAFTA. That does not mean that we do not find scholars and think tanks that honestly and independently were in favor of NAFTA. The point here is that the transnational dialogue was more institutionalized in the 1990s than in the 1920s.

     The two cases studied in this paper show that the internationalism of these intellectuals was highly rooted in the national, in the domestic peculiarities of the United States. In both historical moments, however, the national was fully mixed with the international. The United States of the 1920s was a country of both intense nationalism and fascination with the external world. American intellectuals were captivated with the Bolshevik revolution, and the "Soviet Union became an almost tangible part of the intellectual life in New York." The repudiation by American intellectuals of "bourgeois habits, assumptions and prejudices" and political and economic developments also propelled them to explore beyond United States national boundaries. In the outside world, these intellectuals were searching for new ideas that could be implemented in the United States. Some of them found in Europe or Latin America a source of inspiration. Some went into exile; others remained in the United States but with eyes open to other nations. Their learning and reflections of the outside world became part of American culture. Warren I. Susman asserts that "the new images and uses of place in expatriation mark a positive contribution to American civilization rather than simply a negative rejection of America."58 The domestic and the international were two components of the same political universe.

     The early 1990s were also years of deep nationalism and intense internationalism for the United States. In the 1920s nationalism was stimulated by World War I; in the 1990s, by economic globalization and the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Today, in the United States, nationalist tendencies (anti-immigration laws, militarization of the border, and antimulticulturalism) coexist with transnational influences (the establishment of international regimes, advanced forms of communication, global media, mobility of capital, and so on). For Theodore Lowi this inherent contradiction between nationhood (culturally specific) and the market (universalistic) has provoked a domestic bipolarity between "the cultural particularities of nationhood (sometimes called community) and the economic universalism of the market." For him, the "assault of global competition on communities . . . has produced a status panic in response to new immigration. . . . At the same time, there has been a mobilization of the pride of the same minorities and ethnic groups, the revival, in effect, of nationhood as a belief system."59 The national and the international are again interlocked.

     The think tanks studied in this paper are manifestations of the fusion between the national and the international. In the United States of the early 1990s, Mexico was not a foreign policy issue, but a domestic policy concern. For economic and political reasons, different groups of the American population demanded immediate information about Mexico and guidelines for policy decisions. Think tanks were ideal institutions to fulfill this need. They generated analyses, spread ideas in the printed and electronic media, organized meetings between American politicians and businessmen, conducted an intellectual lobby in Congress, and often interconnected Mexican and American elites. In doing so, they obtained visibility, an important ingredient of their success. NAFTA, a domestic-international concern with national and international implications, encouraged these intellectuals and their organizations to behave internationally. 

     Furthermore, think tanks have became a clear expression of transnationalism. CSIS has an international orientation and studies both domestic and international topics. The Institute for International Economics asserts that it "addresses audiences in both the United States and around the world."60 The Heritage Foundation has offices in Moscow and Hong Kong; the Hudson Institute, in Montreal and Brussels. Heritage’s office in Moscow seeks to influence Russian domestic politics and reports directly to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., about Russian politics. Heritage’s coordinator in Moscow, Evgeni Volk, has a radio program in Moscow in which he advocates free-market economy and democracy.

     The Heritage Foundation has also maintained contact with some Mexican intellectuals and their institutions, especially with Carolina de Bolivar, president of the Institute Ludwig von Mises, and Luis Pasos, general director of the Centro de Investigacion sobre la Libre Empresa (Center for Research on Free Enterprise), both in Mexico City. In the particular case of NAFTA, Heritage invited Mexican pro-NAFTA intellectuals to participate in their Washington activities. In 1993 the Mexican commentator Luis Pasos was a visiting scholar at the Heritage, and the Heritage arranged the visit of Roberto Salinas to testify before Congress. Wesley R . Smith, Heritage’s policy analyst during NAFTA negotiations years, became a commentator on American politics for Gutierrez Vivo’s news program, one of the most important radio programs in Mexico City. Think tanks are becoming a new vehicle to interconnect communities and ideas in an increasing globalized world.

     In the 1990s, like in the 1920s, transnational alliances are central components of our political and cultural life. Cross-national groups of intellectuals and policy makers in the United States and Mexico not only constructed a campaign against or in favor of NAFTA but also built important transnational coalitions. For these coalitions, often the political enemy was located in their own country while the political ally was found abroad. Transnational partnerships, therefore, have become so strong that their associates view their allies as close and vital partners, sometimes even more important than their fellow citizens. Political success, therefore, is frequently determined by the efficacy and shape of the transnational coalition that has been created. In the years to come, we will observe that in certain issue areas transnational alliances will become a central component of our mutual history and an integral element in the way we do politics.

     In the current times, it is indispensable to recover these episodes of our common past. The time has come to abandon the historical parochialism of both countries, with their nation-centered perspectives, and to immerse ourselves in the systematic study of our shared past. This compels us to study not only Mexico but the United States, to explore the historical development of both countries not only from without but also from within. This propels us to present interdisciplinary perspectives that would enrich our comprehension of the other. This encourages us to examine themes that are meaningful for both nations and even to develop common research agendas between Mexican and American scholars. Only through this kind of analysis will we be able to offer a better history, a more complete history, a more critical history of our common past.

Jesus Velasco is assistant professor at the Center for Teaching and Research in Economics (CIDE), Mexico City.

I would like to express my gratitude to Adriana Carrillo, Anaeli Medrano, Jorge Salcido, and Adriana Vallejo for their research assistance. Jean Meyer, Mauricio Tenorio, and David Thelen, with their insightful criticisms, helped me revise my arguments. Mary Jane Gormley made excellent editorial suggestions. Translations from Spanish sources are mine unless otherwise noted.

1 Russell Jacoby, The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (New York, 1982), 5, 7, 221.

2 Robert J. McMahon, "The Study of American Foreign Relations: National History or International History," in Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations, ed. Michael J. Hogan and Thomas G. Paterson (New York, 1991), 12 – 13. Also see Emily S. Rosenberg, "Walking the Borders," ibid., 24 – 54.

3 Akira Iriye, "The Internationalization of History," American Historical Review, 94 (Feb. 1989), 2. See also Ian Tyrrell, "American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History," ibid., 96 (Oct. 1991), 1031 – 55; and a criticism of that article, Michael McGerr, "The Price of the ‘New Transnational History,’ " ibid., 1056 – 67.

4 Alan Knight, U.S.-Mexican Relations, 1910 – 1940: An Interpretation (San Diego, 1987), 131. Josefina Zoradia Vázquez and Lorenzo Meyer, México Frente a Estados Unidos: Un Ensayo Histórico, 1776 – 1980 (Mexico and the United States: A historical essay, 1776 – 1980) (Mexico City, 1982), 145 – 46.

5 For an example of the unfavorable political climate, see Mark T. Gilderhus, "Senator Albert B. Fall and the ‘Plot against Mexico,’ " New Mexico Historical Review, 48 (no. 4, 1973), 299 – 311. On Venustiano Carranza’s propaganda campaign in the United States, see Michael M. Smith, "Carrancista Propaganda and the Print Media in the United States: An Overview of Institutions," Americas, 52 (no. 2, 1995), 155 – 75. C. Dennis Ignasias, "Propaganda and Public Opinion in Harding’s Foreign Affairs: The Case for Mexican Recognition," Journalism Quarterly, 47 (Spring 1971). Ignasias’s comments on the relationships between the Obregon administration and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) acquire more relevance if we see them as a part of the efforts of the Mexican government to form coalitions with domestic interest groups.

6 For a review of recent publications on Mexican and American intellectuals and artists in Mexico during the first half of this century, see Mauricio Tenorio, "The Cosmopolitan Mexican Summer, 1920 – 1949," Latin American Research Review, 32 (no. 3, 1997), 224 – 42. See also Mauricio Tenorio, "Ciudad de Mexico, Capital de un Siglo de Veinte Años" (Mexico City, capital of a century of twenty years), unpublished paper, 1998 (in Jesus Velasco’s possession).

7 Steven Biel, Independent Intellectuals in the United States, 1910 – 1945 (New York, 1992), 98, and in general chapter 4. Warren I. Susman, "The Expatriate Image," in Intellectual History in America from Darwin to Niebuhr, ed. Cushing Strout (New York, 1968), 154.

8 Tannenbaum letter quoted in Helen Delpar, "Frank Tannenbaum: The Making of a Mexicanist, 1914 – 1933," Americas, 45 (Oct. 1988), 159. Gruening quoted in Helen Delpar, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican: Cultural Relations between the United States and Mexico, 1920 – 1935 (Tuscaloosa, 1992), 26. Beals quoted ibid., 31.

9 See Eugenia Meyer, "Espionaje por Carambola: El Caso de John Kenneth Turner" (Espionage by carom: The case of John Kenneth Turner), Eslabones (Mexico City) (no. 2, July – Dec. 1991), 30 – 34. John A. Britton, Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States (Lexington, 1995), 38. Ramon de Negri to Alvaro Obregon, Feb. 22, 1921 (in Spanish), Grupo Documental 209-K-1 (Archivo General de la Nacion, Mexico City).

10 Henry C. Schmidt, "The American Intellectual Discovery of Mexico in the 1920s," South Atlantic Quarterly, 77 (Summer 1978), 338.

11 John A. Britton, "In Defense of Revolution: American Journalists in Mexico, 1920 – 1929," Journalism History, 5 (Winter 1978 – 1979), 125.

12 Ibid., 125 – 26.

13 My comments about Tannenbaum’s life are fundamentally based on Charles A. Hale, "Frank Tannenbaum and the Mexican Revolution," Hispanic American Historical Review, 75 (no. 2, 1995), 215 – 46. For a good analysis of the Masses, see Leslie Fishbein, Rebels in Bohemia: The Radicals of the Masses, 1911 – 1917 (Chapel Hill, 1982).

14 Hale, "Frank Tannenbaum and the Mexican Revolution," 238 – 39.

15 Frank Tannenbaum, "The Miracle School," Century Magazine, 106 (no. 4, 1923), 499.

16 See Hale, "Frank Tannenbaum and the Mexican Revolution," 228. Ibid., 231.

17 Ibid., 232; Delpar, Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican, 27 – 28.

18 Survey Graphic instructions quoted in Delpar, "Frank Tannenbaum," 158.

19 Frank Tannenbaum, "Mexico — A Promise," Survey Graphic, 52 (no. 3, 1924), 129, 132.

20 Carleton Beals, "The Obregon Regime," ibid., 135. On Morones, Vasconcelos, and Carrillo Puerto, Carleton Beals, Mexican Maze (Philadelphia, 1931), 12. On Chavez, Carleton Beals, The Nature of Revolution (New York, 1970), 118. Beals, "Obregon Regime," 189.

21 John A. Britton, Carleton Beals: A Radical Journalist in Latin America (Albuquerque, 1987), 44. Most of my biographical remarks come from Britton’s book.

22 David W. Levy, Herbert Croly of the New Republic: The Life and Thought of an American Progressive (Princeton, 1985), 212, 256. Britton, Carleton Beals, 234. 

23 Britton, Carleton Beals, 49.

24 Ernest Gruening, "The Man Who Brought Mexico Back," Collier’s, Sept. 29, 1923, p. 7.

25 Ernest Gruening, "The New Era in Mexico: A Study of President Calles," Century Magazine, 109 (March 1925), 658.

26 Plutarco Elias Calles to Ernest Gruening, Aug. 31, 1923 (in Spanish), File Ernest Gruening, Expediente 64, Inventario 2516, Gaveta 38, Archive Plutarco Elias Calles (Fideicomiso Archivos Plutarco Elias Calles y Fernando Torreblanca, Mexico City).

27 Ernest Gruening to Plutarco Elias Calles, June 21, 1924 (in Spanish), File Ernest Gruening, Expediente 64, Inventario 2516, Gaveta 38, Archive Plutarco Elias Calles.

28 As an example of jointly written articles, see Carleton Beals and Robert Haberman, "Mexican Labor and the Mexican Government," Liberator (Oct. 1920), 20 – 23. Plutarco Elias Calles to Adolfo de la Huerta, June 27, 1922 (in Spanish), File Robert Haberman, Expediente 2, Legajo 2 / 2, Inventario 2615, Gaveta 39, Archive Plutarco Elias Calles.

29 Gregg Andrews, "Robert Haberman, Socialist Ideology, and the Politics of National Reconstruction in Mexico, 1920 – 25," Mexican Studies / Estudios Mexicanos, 6 (Summer 1990), 190.

30 Barry Carr, El Movimiento Obrero y la Politica en Mexico, 1910 – 1929 (The labor movement and politics in Mexico, 1910 – 1929) (Mexico City, 1976), 94 – 95. Bertram Wolfe, "Gompers, Agente del Imperialismo Yanqui: Mexico se Prepara a Recibirlo" (Gompers, agent of Yankee imperialism: Mexico prepares to receive him), El Machete (Mexico City), Oct. 30 – Nov. 6, 1924, p. 2.

31 Gregg Andrews, Shoulder to Shoulder? The American Federation of Labor, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution, 1910 – 1924 (Berkeley, 1991), 167.

32 Gregg Andrews asserts that Obregon used the "CROM’s friendship with AFL to assure the ‘pope in the White House’ that his movement posed no threat to the United States." Andrews also argues that Gompers made the arrangements for a meeting between Morones and Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. See Andrews, Shoulder to Shoulder?, 100.

33 On the topic of American business and the recognition of Mexico, see N. Stephen Kane, "American Businessmen and Foreign Policy: The Recognition of Mexico, 1920 – 1923," Political Science Quarterly, 90 (Summer 1975), 293 – 313; and Randall G. Hanis, "Alvaro Obregon, the Mexican Revolution, and the Politics of Consolidation, 1920 – 1924" (Ph.D. diss., University of New Mexico, 1971), 179 – 89. For the support of American chambers of commerce for the Obregon administration, see Atholl McBean to Secretary of State, Feb. 16, 1921, Grupo Documental 104-R1-E-2 (Archivo General de la Nacion). Similar letters from other chambers of commerce can be found in the same file.

34 Haberman quoted in Everett J. Ford, Educational Committee, Erie Central Labor Union, to Secretary Plutarco Elias Calles, May 29, 1922, File Robert Haberman, Expediente 2, Legajo 2 / 2, Inventario 2615, Gaveta 39, Archive Plutarco Elias Calles.

35 Robert Haberman to Plutarco Elias Calles, July 30, 1921 (in Spanish), File Robert Haberman, Expediente 2, Legajo 1 / 2, Inventario 2615, Gaveta 39, Archive Plutarco Elias Calles. Samuel Gompers, "The Mexican Government Should Be Recognized," American Federationist, 29 (March 1922), 199. Carlos Macias Richard, "Diplomacia y Propaganda Mexicana en Estados Unidos" (Mexican diplomacy and propaganda in the United States), Eslabones (no. 2, July – Dec. 1991), 58.

36 For anti-Mexican immigration policy, see Harvey A. Levenstein, "The AFL and Mexican Immigration in the 1920s: An Experiment in Labor Diplomacy," Hispanic American Historical Review, 48 (May 1968), 206 – 19. For immigration concerns in PAFL, see Sinclair Snow, The Pan-American Federation of Labor (Durham, 1964), 106.

37 Lorenzo Meyer, México y los Estados Unidos en el Conflicto Petrolero, 1917 – 1942 (Mexico and the United States in the oil conflict, 1917 – 1942) (Mexico City, 1981), 187. Jose W. Kelly to Plutarco Elias Calles, Aug. 30, 1921 (in Spanish), File Jose W. Kelly, Expediente 3, Legajo 1 / 17, Inventario 3034, Gaveta 45, Archive Plutarco Elias Calles. 

38 John P. Diggins, The Rise and Fall of the American Left (New York, 1992), 94. Eugene E. Leach, "The Radicals of the Masses," in 1915, the Cultural Moment: The New Politics, the New Woman, the New Psychology, the New Art, and the New Theater in America, ed. Adele Heller and Lois Rudnick (New Brunswick, 1991), 28. Britton, Carleton Beals, 231.

39 Richard Pells, Radical Visions and American Dreams: Culture and Social Thought in the Depression Years (New York, 1973), 5. Britton, Revolution and Ideology, 19.

40 I further elaborate this issue in Jesus Velasco, "Selling Ideas, Buying Influence: Mexico and American Think Tanks in the Promotion of NAFTA," in Bridging the Border: Transforming Mexico-U.S. Relations, ed. Rodolfo de la Garza and Jesus Velasco (Boulder, 1997), 125 – 47.

41 Mexican politician interview (in Spanish) by Velasco, Mexico City, Oct. 13, 1995, audiotape (in Velasco’s possession).

42 Ibid.

43 Rosalva Ojeda interview (in Spanish) by Velasco, Mexico City, Sept. 28, 1995, audiotape (in Velasco’s possession). Hermann von Bertrab interview by Velasco, Washington, D.C., Aug. 16, 1993, audiotape (in Velasco’s possession).

44 It would be possible to find corporations that supported pro-NAFTA think tanks and were against the agreement because of the particular nature of their business. But this was the exception more than the rule. 

45 Second Mexican politician interview (in Spanish) by Velasco, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Oct. 9, 1995, audiotape (in Velasco’s possession).

46 Jose Luis Bernal interview by Velasco, Mexico City, Feb. 20, 1996, audiotape (in Velasco’s possession). I obtained a copy of the Delal Baer – Sidney Weintraub letter from a person who used to work in a think tank and preferred to remain anonymous. (In Velasco’s possession.)

47 Baer-Weintraub letter.

48 Ibid. See "Scholars for a Free Trade with Mexico," III / 352 (72:73:71) / 42900, Tratado Trilateral de Libre Comercio collection (General Archive of the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mexico City).

49 Second Mexican politician interview by Velasco, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Oct. 9, 1995, audiotape (in Velasco’s possession).

50 Delal Baer, "Lo que es Ser Mexicanologo," (What is being a Mexicanist), Reforma (Mexico City), July 14, 1995 (Internet).

51 Jose Luis Bernal interview by Velasco, Mexico City, Oct. 7, 1995, audiotape (in Velasco’s possession). "Informe Mensual de la Embajada de Mexico en Washington" ( July 1994), 42247 General 7a Parte Pasa 8a Parte (General Archive of the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs).

52 "Informe Annual sobre los Acontecimientos Mas Relevantes Ocurridos en Estados Unidos asi como en la Relacion Bilateral durante 1990," 42247 General 4a Parte Pasa a 5a Parte (General Archive of the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs).

53 See Michael G. Wilson and Wesley R. Smith, eds., The North American Free Trade Agreement: Spurring Prosperity and Stability in the Americas (Washington, 1992).

54 From EMBAMEX-EUA to C: Secretary, Fernando Solana, fax, Jan. 15, 1991, III / 110 (VIII) 39738, Correspondencia para la Direccion General de Asuntos Economicos Multilaterales (General Archive of the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mexico City). 

55 See Mexican Action Network on Free Trade, Memoria de Zacatecas (Mexico, Feb. 1992).

56 Adolfo Aguilar Zinser telephone interview by Velasco, Mexico City, March 1, 1999 (notes in Velasco’s possession). Carlos Heredia telephone interview by Velasco, Mexico City, March 2, 1999 (notes in Velasco’s possession). Ralph Nader et al., The Case against Free Trade: GATT, NAFTA, and Globalization of Corporate Power (San Francisco, 1993).

57 The term ideological sympathizer is used by Friedrich Katz to analyze secret agents of revolutions in other countries. See Friedrich Katz, "El Espionaje Mexicano en Estados Unidos durante la Revolution" (Mexican espionage in the United States during the revolution), Eslabones (no. 2, July – Dec. 1991), 10. For a history of American think tanks, see James A. Smith, The Idea Brokers: Think Tanks and the Rise of the New Policy Elite (New York, 1991); and David Ricci, The Transformation of American Politics: The New Washington and the Rise of Think Tanks (New Haven, 1993).

58 Thomas Bender, Intellect and Public Life: Essays on the Social History of American Intellectuals in the United States (Baltimore, 1993), 85. Pells, Radical Visions and American Dreams, 23. Susman, "Expatriate Image," 157.

59 Theodore J. Lowi, "American Impasses: The Ideological Dimensions at Era’s End," in The American Impasse: U.S. Domestic and Foreign Policy after the Cold War, ed. Michael Minkenberg and Herbert Dittgen (Pittsburgh, 1996), 8.

60 I obtained this citation from the web page [http: // www.iie.com / ADMINIST / aboutiie.htm] of the Institute for International Economics.

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