Now Mexico Is Added to Our Company

By E. Royston Pike
The War Illustrated, Volume 6, No. 131, Page 24, June 26, 1942.

Following the sinking by German U-boats of several Mexican tankers and merchantships, President Camacho asked the Mexican Congress for a declaration of war against the Axis Powers. This was granted, and from noon on May 28 Mexico was joined with the United Nations as their ally in the world-wide struggle.

Accompanied by soldiers, bands, and waving flags, officials of the Republic of Mexico on June 1 paraded the streets of the capital and the principle cities and towns to read a proclamation of war against Germany, Italy and Japan. This was in accordance with the old-time custom, dating back to the days when Mexico was a colonial province of Spain, but in fact the Republic was at war already.

Four days before, on May 28, President Avila Camacho addressed a special session of Congress assembled in Mexico City. Mexico, he said, was a peaceful nation and the last war in which she had been engaged was that against the invading French in 1862; but the recent sinking by German submarines of two Mexican tankers "in a cowardly ambush" made it necessary for Mexico to defend her honour and the principles of all liberty-loving people. "The dictators have attacked us" (he went on). "The nation understands that we have done all that was possible to avoid entering the war - all but passive acceptance of dishonour. Mexico expects each one of her sons to do his duty."

While promising that Mexican troops would not be sent to serve out of the continent, the President asked -indeed gave a pledge- that Mexico would collaborate to the full in the continental defence and would co-ordinate its activities with those of the other American nations defending themselves and the hemisphere. The assembly cheered and cheered again as the President sat down, and hastened to give him the powers he required, viz. to declare a state of war with the Axis Powers and govern by decree for the duration of the war, the usual parliamentary guarantees being suspended during the emergency.

In Mexico the declaration of war against the Axis was received with general satisfaction, since of all the American republics Mexico has claim to be considered as the most firmly anti-totalitarian. Moreover -though this will seem hard to believe by those who think of Mexico as a land of dictators and bandits- she is genuinely democratic and to a very large extent socialistic. It was in Mexico that the first of the great modern revolutions broke out - in 1911, when President Diaz, who had been virtual dictator of the republic for more than thirty years, was overthrown by Francisco Madero, whose slogan was "land and liberty." The story of the years that followed is as confused as it is blood-stained, but while presidents have come and presidents have gone, the revolution has gone on. Expropriation of the great landowners and the dividing up of the feudal estates into holdings for the peons, or Indian peasants; the disestablishment of the Catholic Church because of its political activities, and the nationalization of its large properties (other than the churches themselves); and the attempt to bring the great foreign oil interests, in particular the Mexican Eagle and the Royal Dutch-Shell groups, under full government control - these are persistent features of the Mexican Revolution. In 1938 the foreign oil companies were expropriated, and this led to the severance of diplomatic relations with Britain. Mexicans, however, regarded the act as a symbol of national sovereignty and independence, and it is satisfactory to recall that last October terms were agreed for the purchase of the oil properties.

Then in foreign affairs Mexico's record of opposition to the aggressor powers is hard to beat. In 1935 she condemned German rearmament; she never recognized the Italian seizure of Abyssinia; she protested against Hitler's invasion of Austria, and was the only country in the world to give asylum to those who had fought against Fascism in Spain. It was in Mexico, too, that Trotsky found a refuge. Mexican public opinion was bitterly contemptuous of the Munich settlement, and for years it gave the principle of collective security ardent support. Then, although the country is not Communist -there are still no diplomatic relations between Mexico and Moscow- the entry of Soviet Russia into the war greatly strengthened her already strong sympathies with the democratic countries.

In the last war Mexico was neutral, showing at times a pronounced bias against the U.S.A. and Britain and in favour of Germany. At that time, too, the country was torn by civil war as rival gangster politicians struggled for office and its spoils. It is fortunate, indeed, that for some years past the republic has been governed on strong but constitutional lines by two men who are likely to live long in their country's history. The one is General Lázaro Cárdenas, who succeeded Calles as President in 1934 and forthwith embarked on a programme of far-reaching social reforms, constituting a "new deal", not unlike, and possibly inspired by, Roosevelt's in the great republic to the north. Cárdenas it was who fought and defeated the "oil imperialism" of the British and American trusts, nationalized the railways and big industries, and distributed millions of acres among the landless peasants. The other is General Camacho, who succeeded Cárdenas as President in 1940; under him the trend to State Socialism has gone on, though it has not been -at least some say- quite so pronounced.

So today, Mexico -third in size and second in population of the Latin-American republics; she is as big as Germany, Spain, France and Italy combined, and there are nearly twice as many Mexicans as there are Canadians- is our ally. From the purely military point of view her adhesion is not perhaps of any great significance, since her regular army numbers only some 40,000 men, her air force is tiny, and her navy consists of a handful of patrol vessels used in coast guard and police work. Her mercantile marine compromised, in 1939, fifty-six vessels of a gross tonnage of 38,373. But her strategic and economic importance is hardly to be exaggerated. For some months past Mexico has joined with the U.S.A. in measures for coastal defence, and the latter has had the right to land aeroplanes on Mexican aerodromes for a 24-hour stay; but now the U.S. Navy will be able to use twenty-two Mexican ports on the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, Mexican aerodromes will be generally available, and the defence of the Panama Canal will be made vastly more effective. Moreover, Mexico's enormous mineral wealth will be flung into the scale on the side of the United Nations. The mass of the Mexican people are shockingly poor, in spite of all the well-intentioned reforms of recent decades; but the country in which they live, and whose surface has as yet hardly been scratched, is immensely rich. Most important of all, of course, are the oil deposits; in 1939 Mexico produced over six million tons of crude petroleum -more than Rumania and almost as much as the Netherlands East Indies, although small enough compared to the 168 million tons produced in the U.S.A. Then, finally, now that Mexico has entered the war on our side, our enemies are deprived of a possible jumping-off ground for the invasion of America, north or south. All in all, then, we have good reason to be pleased and proud that Mexico is now to be numbered in the great and growing company of the United Nations.