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Mexico’s Obsession With ‘Foreign Intervention’ Enshrined in Museum

Times Staff Writer

The Museum of Intervention is a repository for old cannon, tattered flags and unhealed wounds to Mexico’s self-esteem.

With its exhibits detailing four centuries of foreign plots, invasions and land grabs, the museum is a symbol of Mexico’s national frustration. And to discourage any notion that intervention is a thing of the past, there is a bulletin board for “News of the Day” that keeps the museum up to date.

The latest intervention? Displayed on the bulletin board the other day was a newspaper article headlined, “Formal Protest of Mexico against the Interventionism of the U.S. Senate.”

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The article dealt with hearings on Mexico last month before a Senate subcommittee. Testimony at the hearings, chaired by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), characterized Mexico as infected by widespread corruption, enmeshed in drug traffic and run by a party kept in power through electoral fraud.

As sharply anti-Mexican as the testimony was, Mexican officials have played down the specific criticisms, instead pointing out that the Senate had no right at all to talk about Mexico. In their view, the hearings were a form of “intervention,” even if only verbal.

The official Mexican protest note sent to the U.S. State Department called the hearings a “clear and inadmissible violation of Mexican sovereignty.”

‘A Very Clear Act’

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In debate in the Mexican Congress on the hearings, one legislator blurted out: “Is it an act of intervention? Yes or no? (The subcommittee) is an organ of the Senate of the U.S. government, of the juridical structure of the U.S. government. It is a very clear act of intervention.”

In response to Mexican complaints, the Reagan Administration scrambled to patch up relations.

The State Department sent a soothing diplomatic note to Mexico. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III telephoned his Mexican counterpart to express confidence in Mexico’s anti-drug effort. And the Treasury Department all but retracted accusations by the U.S. Customs commissioner that a Mexican state governor grows opium and marijuana on his ranches.

Differing Viewpoints

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From the U.S. side, however, came no admission of having interfered in any way in Mexican affairs, an indication of the different viewpoints of the two nations.

Much of official Mexico sees the outside world, and especially U.S.-Mexican relations, through the prism of intervention. Opposition to foreign intervention is considered a matter of principle, and it is emphasized at times when the Mexican government seeks to promote unity in the face of nagging internal problems.

So, when public criticism of Mexico is on the upswing in Washington, talk of U.S. interference increases here.

No Mystery

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There is no mystery to the country’s obsession with intervention. Mexico is a country that was forged from the Spanish invasion of the Aztec empire. After independence, it lost half of its territory to an expanding United States and has found itself invaded by France and the United States.

In recent years, the main clashes with the United States over foreign policy have centered on the question of intervention, not only here but throughout Latin America. The present government of President Miguel de la Madrid opposes the Reagan Administration’s policy toward Sandinista-led Nicaragua, in part because of U.S. support for rebels, known as contras, who are fighting the leftist government there.

In Mexican political commentary, the definition of foreign intervention is often rather a broad one. Foreign invasions can be spearheaded by bankers as well as by Marines, by reporters as well as gunboats.

Monetary Fund as ‘Invader’

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For example, debate over Mexico’s $96-billion foreign debt sometimes takes place in the context of interference in Mexican affairs. In this case, the invading force is the International Monetary Fund. That body is pressing the Mexican government to reduce its spending as a guarantee to bankers that the value of new loans will not be eroded by inflation or channeled into unproductive projects.

For Mexico, reduced spending is something of a counterrevolutionary notion. The size of the bureaucracy and the level of government spending have increased steadily over the last 15 years as part of an effort to promote “social democracy” through subsidies and government jobs.

The pressure from the International Monetary Fund has brought warnings from union officials about the imposition on Mexico of “foreign models.” In government-organized street protests that followed the Senate hearings, people chanted, “IMF, get the heck out.”

Ruling Party Worried

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Officials here are also wary of indications that Washington may be trying to undermine the long-established rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Recently, the party has been challenged in several elections by the conservative National Action Party, and its officials have responded by accusing the National Action Party of being a tool of Washington.

The National Action Party was the only political party in Mexico that did not criticize the Senate hearings in Washington.

“This is how the North Americans interpret their liberty and parliamentary function,” a National Action Party congressman said.

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‘Confusing Your Flag’

A ruling-party congressman countered, “I believe that what you have not considered profoundly is that you are serving foreign interests, . . that you are confusing your flag.”

In recent months, the foreign press in Mexico City has become a target of defensive nationalism. Correspondents are routinely accused of waging a campaign against Mexico through articles that are adverse to Mexico.

Not long ago, the Mexican legislature protested the reporting of U.S. correspondents, and the head of the government-supported foreign press club said in response:

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“Can you imagine if the U.S. Congress did the same each time the Mexican press insulted Reagan? It wouldn’t have time to do anything else.”

Nevertheless, the specter of intervention is kept very much alive in Mexico. One of the country’s important national holidays, celebrated on May 5, commemorates the defeat of a French invasion force at Puebla in 1862.

Texas Celebration Decried

The U.S. celebration this year of the 150th anniversary of Texas’ independence from Mexico was blasted in articles here as a perversion of history. Texas was independent, they said, when Mexico broke away from Spain in 1810.

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The Museum of Intervention, founded in 1981, is a monument to Mexican resentment of foreign meddling. It occupies an old convent on the south side of Mexico City that was the scene of a battle between Mexican and U.S. troops in the Mexican War of 1846-48. High school students wander through the halls taking notes on the indignities inflicted on Mexico over the years.

The United States is the prime villain at the museum. For example, the 19th-Century travels of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark through what is now the American West are characterized as a spying foray into Mexican territory in the guise of exploration.

Deserters Honored

The exhibit on the Alamo contends that the infiltration of Mexican Texas by U.S. citizens was organized in Washington. A stone tablet honors Irish deserters from a U.S. invasion force that occupied Mexico City for a time in the Mexican War.

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When physical invasions diminished, the museum’s literature contends, “imperialist powers” began to invade Mexico with investment capital in the hope of bringing about a peaceful conquest.

“Such was the case of Mexico that the richness of its subsoil, its geographic position, its extensive shores favored the easy entrance of the powers,” according to a note on a display of Mexico’s riches: cotton, gold, coffee and oil.

Finally, members of a U.S. Marine force that occupied Veracruz at the time of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 are described as mercenaries whose “first victims were women and children.”

An exhibit relating to Sen. Helms, who presided over the recent Senate hearings, has not yet been permanently installed at the museum.

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Foreign invasions can be spearheaded by bankers and reporters as well as by Marines.


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