t h e i n t e r p l ay b e t w e e n d o m e s t i c a f fa i r s
a n d f o r e i g n r e l at i o n s
The trend of United States–Mexican relations today is predicated principally upon
the course of Mexico’s internal development.
u.s. state department report of the division of the american
republics, december 29, 1937
An intimate relationship exists between our foreign policy and the e√orts that
Mexico makes toward forwarding its social reforms.
mexico’s deputy foreign minister ramón beteta, january 4, 1940
and and Liberty’’ and ‘‘Mexico for the Mexicans’’ were among the most
slogans of the Mexican Revolution between 1910 and 1920. These
rallying cries made agrarian reform and economic nationalism prominent fea-
tures of twentieth-century Mexican politics. However, it was only through the
expropriation of American-owned rural property in postrevolutionary Mexico
that both of these important issues coalesced. Between January 1927 and Octo-
ber 1940, 319 individual and corporate American property owners lost approxi-
mately 6.2 million acres to Mexico’s land redistribution program (see map 1).∞
When President Lázaro Cárdenas’s administration expropriated most of this
property in the mid- to late 1930s, it sparked a serious bilateral conflict that I
have termed ‘‘the agrarian dispute.’’ This crisis severely strained diplomatic
relations, due to the fact that hundreds of American-owned properties below
the border were seized without compensation. Although the agrarian dispute
did not end until late 1941, it marked a turning point in U.S.-Mexican relations.
In the course of the conflict, Franklin Roosevelt’s government abandoned a