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  The Ties That Bind

map By Aileen S. Yoo Staff
Updated August 1998

Divided by a 2,000-mile border, but intertwined culturally, politically and economically, Mexico and the United States have developed a love-hate relationship that is often tense over issues ranging from foreign to social policy.

Following Mexico's independence from Spanish colonial rule in 1822, the country sought official recognition with the ever-expanding and powerful United States. The move was designed to forge an economic relationship and to secure Mexico's northern territories. But in 1835, American colonists in Texas rebelled and seceded from Mexico. The U.S. annexation of Texas and efforts to acquire other Mexican territories sparked the two-year Mexican War that ended in 1848 with Mexico losing what is today California, Nevada, Utah and parts of the southwestern United States.

During the 20th century, Mexico's economy has boomed and its interdependence with the United States has grown, but periodic flare-ups have highlighted stark political and cultural differences. Since the 1970s, Mexican presidents have made official visits to Cuba and joined other countries in denouncing the U.S.-imposed economic embargo on the communist country. Mexico also refused to support the United States boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow and criticized U.S. policy in El Salvador.

The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement signaled a new era of cooperation among Canada, Mexico and the United States. The powerful trading bloc implemented in 1994 not only boosted trade – making Mexico the United States' third-largest trading partner – but transformed the nation into a competitor in the global economy.

San sidro, Calif., border crossing/Michael Williamson/TWP
Drugs can pass easily into the United States because of the sheer volume of cars trying to enter, as at San Ysidro, Calif. (Michael Williamson – The Post)

Despite stronger economic ties, drug trafficking and illegal immigration have put both nations on the defensive.

Mexico is the second-largest supplier of heroin to the United States and is used as the principle route for cocaine crossing the border. Despite pledges of cooperation to fight drugs, trust between law enforcement institutions in both countries and the impact of Mexican drug cartels on border communities have strained relations.

The two countries also find themselves on opposite sides of the immigration issue. Seeing a surge of illegal immigration, particularly across the border, the United States has cracked down with a series of laws that Mexican officials fear will spur discrimination against Mexicans and other Latin Americans.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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