One of the things that I am often confronted with – when discussing the geopolitics of Mexico and the United States – is the lack of historical foundation most people have both in Mexico and the United States. Both educational systems, in Mexico and the United States, are notorious for teaching a distorted history of events by omission or by outright rewriting history. The distortion of history inevitably leads to arguments about some important geopolitical nuances that are important to the context of an issue – especially when it comes to geopolitics. This is especially true when it comes to Fidel Castro and Mexico. Today, I’d like to share a snapshot with you about Castro and Mexico so that you can get a better understanding of the governmental antagonism between the US and Mexican governments as well as to give you an insight as to why Cuban-American voters do not care for Mexicans in general.
For Mexico, it all comes down to exerting some independence from the “giant” to the north by making sovereignty a key part of its relationship with the United States. The US, for its part, has always based its foreign relations with keeping a giant buffer around its borders away from the dangers of Communism and now Islamic terrorism. The US keeps a foreign relations doctrine of fighting its wars as far away as possible from its shores. As such, it first endeavored to keep Communism away from the American continent and now it strives to keep fundamental Islamic terrorism away as well.
Mexico is dominated by a national psyche of losing its identity to the US while trying to benefit from the giant’s economy. For Mexico, the US is an overpowering monster trying to shape the Mexican destiny as a US satellite. For the US, Mexico is an obvious foothold for any enemy that is trying to exert itself upon the US.
This geopolitical dynamic is the nexus behind the smoke-and-mirrors that is the US-Mexico geopolitics. As such, Fidel Castro was a tool used by both Mexico and the United States in the game of geopolitics between the two.
Fidel Castro launched his revolution; “Movimiento 26 de julio,” also known as “M-26-7”, or the 26th of July Movement to overthrow Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista government in July of 1953. Their attack on the Moncada barracks failed and Castro was captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Batista government.
In May of 1955, Batista pardoned Castro, who then fled along with his brother, Raul, to Mexico. In Mexico, Fidel met Ernesto “Che” Guevara. It is, there, in Mexico that the three resurrected the M-26-7 Movement and organized as a rebel group to overthrow the Batista government. In November of 1956, the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and 81 rebels left Mexico aboard the Granma to restart their revolution. Although the overthrow of the Batista government started out badly for the rebels, by January 1, 1959, Fulgencio Batista had fled Cuba as Castro’s rebel army took control of the island.
As a result, many Cuban landowners and business entrepreneurs fled to the United States, leading to the creation of the Cuban-American voting bloc.
Castro’s revolution was a populists’ movement, based on the overthrow of the elite by the oppressed peasants that was rising across the continent as the agrarian economy was being pressured by industrialization. Fidel Castro was heavily influenced by Che Guevara’s Marxists ideology and thus adopted that philosophy as he rebuilt Cuba under his control. Although Che Guevara distrusted the Soviets, the US, seeing the start of the Cold War and the Soviet sphere of influence expanding across the globe, reacted to Castro’s revolution as a Soviet threat on the US doorstep. Thus, the geopolitics became one of keeping Soviet influence away from the Americas in continuation of the US doctrine of keeping its enemies as far away as possible.
Mexico, for its part, in the midst its own industrialization and leftist political influences driven at the same time by an agrarian resistance to industrialization and populists’ rhetoric to keep US influence at bay, saw the Cuban revolution as an opportunity to resist the US by using Castro as an irritant to US influence. Thus, Castro’s Cuba became a Mexican outlet for national populism in Mexico while using Cuba as a nuisance to US foreign policy. Cuba allowed Mexico to assert sovereignty by keeping the façade that it was an annoyance to US foreign policy without forcing the US to assert open control of Mexico, if Mexico were to embark upon a close relationship with the USSR. Both the US and Mexican governments understood that if Mexico embarked upon a close relationship with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics then the US, under its foreign policy doctrine, would have done everything in its power to keep the Soviets out of Mexico. The Mexican government clearly understood this reality and thus to keep a façade of independence from US influence used Cuba as a constant irritant to the US.
But it was not all as it seemed. Publicly the Mexican government played a delicate balancing act by openly supporting the Cuban revolution while actively spying on Cuba on behalf of the United States. It was all part of the smoke-and-mirrors that is prevalent in the psyche of Mexico – act one way publicly while doing the opposite thing in secret.
Mexico allowed the Castro brothers to organize their revolution in Mexico. As with all geopolitics there are many pieces at play at the same time, but the underlining reason was that Mexico, like all other Latin American countries at the time, was wrestling with industrialization over an agrarian society. As with the United States, leftist politics are part of the Mexican political landscape and was especially strong in Mexico in the 1950’s. However, the political landscape in Mexico was mostly kept balanced between the left and the right because of the PRI government stronghold over the country.
Thus, from the 1950’s through the early 1990’s, the PRI governments used Cuba as part of its smoke-and-mirrors policy of opposing US government foreign policy publicly while working for the US policies, via spying on Cuba, in the background. By the 1990’s, when NAFTA, was coming into effect, the Cuban-Mexican relationship began to publicly be strained. Mexico no longer publicly supported Cuba on all political policies. However, Cuba was still a lynchpin to keep Mexican nationalists at bay when needed.
In 2000, Vicente Fox was elected as Mexico’s first opposition presidential candidate under the PAN banner. The PAN is known as a right-of-center political party and thus a more public repudiation of Cuban politics was undertaken by the Mexican government. However, the balancing act of using Cuba as a lynchpin to US foreign policy was still occasionally used. The Fox government started to vote publicly condemning Cuba’s human rights violations.
In 2002, the façade of Mexico’s duplicity of publicly supporting Cuba and keeping the US at bay was briefly exposed when Vicente Fox was shown to have demanded that Fidel Castro leave a United Nations summit in Mexico after dinner to avoid Castro and George W. Bush crossing paths during the summit. Castro produced a recording of Fox ordering Castro not say anything negative about the US during the summit.
In 2012, Felipe Calderon revived the Cuba-Mexico relationship by visiting with Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother in Cuba. From there, the Cuba-Mexico relationship has steadily improved.
For Mexico, Cuba was a public foreign policy lynchpin designed to keep Mexican nationalists and leftists at bay while also keeping the US foreign policy under control. Thus, the Cuban-American population generally sees Mexico and Mexicans as antagonists against their political views, although Mexico played both sides of the US geopolitical game; one publicly and the other behind the scenes.