The Good Neighbor Policy and Mexico
An excerpt from The Good Neighbor Policy
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy had significant impact on relations between the United States and its nearest neighbor to the south, Mexico.
Determined to establish and maintain a rapport with Mexico, FDR appointed Josephus Daniels as U.S. ambassador to the country when he became president in March 1933. This appointment struck many as surprising. As U.S. secretary of the navy while FDR served as assistant secretary from 1913 to 1920, Daniels had been FDR’s boss, and the two had not always seen eye to eye on policy matters. In addition, Daniels had been the official charged with carrying out President Woodrow Wilson’s orders to dispatch the navy to occupy the Mexican state of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico in 1914. This intervention in the Mexican Revolution had not been popular in Mexico, and Daniels’s arrival there as ambassador was marred by protests outside the American embassy and a cool reception by Mexican officials.
But Daniels quickly established himself as one of the most effective and well-regarded ambassadors in the history of U.S.-Mexican relations. In this, he was helped greatly by FDR, who remained steadfast in his determination to maintain a policy of nonintervention in the affairs of sovereign American states, articulated and agreed to at the Pan-American Conference of December 1933 in Montevideo, Uruguay.
The election of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río as president of Mexico in 1934 also seemed auspicious for the future of U.S.-Mexican relations. As a social reformer who admired FDR’s New Deal, Cárdenas instigated a number of policies and programs aimed at improving the lives of the Mexican people. He instituted land reform, promoted a secular public education system, and established workers’ cooperatives that would help Mexico’s industrial laborers secure better wages and working conditions.
Not surprisingly, however, American corporate leaders doing business in Mexico regarded Cárdenas’s workers’ rights reforms with alarm. His government’s efforts to abolish religious education, meanwhile, were widely viewed by American Catholics as an attack on the Church. By the spring of 1935, Americans opposed to Cárdenas’s education reform had launched a vigorous campaign to reverse this policy by demanding the recall of Ambassador Daniels and by attempting to pressure the U.S. Congress into launching an investigation into alleged religious persecution in Mexico.
FDR flatly refused to support these initiatives, however, insisting that he would not permit his government “to undertake a policy of interference in the domestic concerns of foreign governments” that would “jeopardize the maintenance of peaceful relations.” Continued here.
Photo: A 1943 poster issued by the U.S. Office of War Information to promote inter-ethnic solidarity in the American war effort. In a domestic application of the principles of the Good Neighbor Policy, the government reached into Spanish-speaking neighborhoods with the message that people of Mexican descent were welcome—and needed—in defense industry jobs, the armed services, war-bond drives, and other activities of the cause. Leon Helguera