Historical Context

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At the time that this poem was created, in 1962, Paz worked for the Mexican diplomatic corps. The country was relatively stable. Less than fifty years earlier, though, it had been through a violent civil war. The revolution, from 1911 to 1917, had removed a dictator who had held the country by military force since 1876. It had been led by Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, for whom Paz’s father worked. With the overthrow of the government, Villa and Zapata, who went on to be remembered as folk heroes, and the government transformed into a one-party federal republic that followed socialist principles. After World War II came the Cold War, which pitted two superpowers against each other as they each tried to convert other countries to its economic system. Mexico’s neighbor, the United States, tried to spread capitalism: Mexico’s socialist political system made it more likely for Mexico to align itself politically with the Soviet Union, which supported the spread of communism.

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In the postwar years, countries across South and Central America underwent violent revolutions against the dictators who had controlled them. Since many of these dictators had been supportive of U.S. industries, the revolutions were spurred with anticapitalist rhetoric, which raised fears in Washington that anti-industrial rebellions were the result of an international Communist conspiracy. During the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for working behind the scenes in countries all over the Americas, training soldiers and providing them with arms; gathering intelligence against protestors; overthrowing the government of Guatamala in 1954; and in at least one case, that of openly Communist Cuba, arranging for the assassination of government leader Fidel Castro.

While other Latin American countries were involved in political upheaval, Mexico was at peace. One reason for this was that it had become a major player in the world oil market. In 1938, the government had appropriated oil companies and thrown out the international conglomerates that owned them, causing a boycott on Mexican oil and products by Europe and the United States. After World War II, though, things changed with the election of Miguel Almán Valdés, the country’s first civilian president. He took a pro-business approach to helping the country’s stagnant economy and worked to modernize Mexico with electricity and water for rural areas and improved transportation. International companies were welcomed back in, finding a business environment that was friendly to the rich, even while most of the population lived in poverty. The United States government also found Mexico to be cooperative in its opposition to Communism. The CIA was allowed free rein to investigate and persecute suspected Communist agitators who it feared might be able to stir up interest in a Communist uprising.

Mexico’s “special relationship” with the United States lasted until the late 1960s, when, in an attempt to curtail drug traffic, President Richard Nixon closed the border between the two countries, dealing a devastating blow to the Mexican economy. This reversed the trend of cooperation that had started in the 1940s, and Mexico sought economic independence from the United States. In the 1980s, Mexico aligned itself with rebels in several countries where the United States supported the standing governments, particularly Nicaragua and El Salvador. This strained Mexican-U.S. relations further. However, around the same time the United States came to rely on Mexico’s support in its war against drugs. Because of the geographical closeness and the economic disparity between the two, both countries often find themselves allied, despite political differences.

Literary Style

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Language is a commonly understood system of symbols...

(The entire section contains 1897 words.)

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