Friend and Foe: Fidel Castro's "Exceptional" Relations with Mexico

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 12:00 PM
Columbia Hall 4 (Washington Hilton)
Renata Keller, Boston University
In a 1985 interview, Fidel Castro reflected on relations between Cuba and Mexico. He repeatedly described the relationship as “exceptional,” reminding the reporter from Excélsior that Mexico was the only Latin American country that had not cut ties with Cuba in the 1960s. Castro did not mention that as his country became increasingly isolated in the decade after the Cuban Revolution, it had become ever more crucial to maintain his connections to Mexico. Nor did he mention that he had exploited the ties between the two countries in order to attempt to export revolution to other parts of Latin America.

What role did Castro and other Cuban officials play in shaping their country’s relations with Mexico? How exactly did they benefit from the connection, and why did they risk severing it? The subject of Cuban foreign policy has received extensive attention from historians, but the vast majority of scholarship focuses either on Cuba’s relations with its allies or its enemies. Mexico was exceptional in that it acted as both friend and foe of the Cuban Revolution. Mexican leaders appeared to be Castro’s only defenders in the hemisphere, yet Castro knew that they were covertly cooperating with the United States.

This presentation argues that Cuba’s foreign relations with Mexico were ambivalent; just as Mexican leaders were both friends and foes to Castro, so was he to them. He praised Mexico’s government in his public speeches and exempted it from his tirades against “the lackeys of Yankee imperialism.” At the same time, his agents frequently crossed the line and interfered in Mexico’s internal affairs, directly contradicting Castro’s pledges of mutual non-intervention. Castro maintained relations with Mexico because the connection helped him promote and spread his revolution.

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