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Land sale still thorn to Mexico
Historians say U.S. imperialism behind treaty
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.12.2004For Mexico, the sale of the southern strip of Arizona and New Mexico to the United States 150 years ago was a betrayal that eventually toppled its government and continues in many ways to define the U.S.-Mexico relationship. In 1853, Mexico was still a relatively new country. It had fought and won its war of independence from Spain in 1821. It was also still reeling from the shock of being invaded and defeated by U.S. forces in the Mexican-American war of 1846-48 and the subsequent loss of a huge part of its northern territory to the United States. For many in Mexico, the Gadsden Purchase - or Treaty of La Mesilla as it is known there because it settled a dispute over the border in the Mesilla Valley near El Paso - was the last battle of a humiliating war. For Mexico's president, Antonio López de Santa Anna, there was no way to refuse the United States the land it sought. The best he could hope for was to get as much money for as little territory as possible. In the end he would be blamed for yet another failure and the sale would bolster the growing "revolución de Ayutla" that would drive him from power. Historians disagree about the causes of the Mexican-American War, which was preceded by Texas declaring its independence from Mexico in 1836 - which Mexico never recognized - and the United States annexing and making it the 28th state in 1845. After the U.S. Army seized Mexico City in 1847, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war with the provision that Mexico give half of its territory to the United States for $15 million. "In Mexico, there is a sense of having been betrayed and having been the victim, the victim of United States imperialism," said Raquel Rubio Goldsmith, an adjunct lecturer in history at the University of Arizona. The defeat of Mexico was so complete that most historians agree that the United States could have annexed all of Mexico at the end of the war. But the U.S. Congress, particularly representatives of the northeastern states, were opposed, said Rubio-Goldsmith. "They felt Mexico was a very inferior population and that it would ruin the U.S. republic, to bring in all of these people who were uneducated in democracy, and who were Catholic," she said. "People forget that for a nation founded by Protestants, Catholicism was seen as a real problem." When the United States came back after the war with an offer to buy not only the Gadsden strip, but also the border states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and parts of Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico was at a distinct disadvantage. "History shows us that this relationship has not been a relationship between equals," said Gustavo Lorenzana Durán, a professor of history at the University of Sonora in Hermosillo. "After 1848, no one doubted the predominance of the American union, and the United States kept the pressure on along the border. "The ambition for more territory remained in force. The situation prior to the signing of the Treaty of La Mesilla was nothing more than the politics of expansion by the United States of America." A number of convoluted issues, from inaccurate maps and southern rail routes to the question of free and slave states in the United States, were raised in the discussions surrounding the Treaty of La Mesilla, said Josefina Zoraida Vázquez y Vera, professor emeritus in history at the Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City and a leading authority on the era. But in the end, she said, it was a simple question of might makes right. "It was resolved by force the way the United States always resolves things," said Zoraida Vázquez. "They claim it was a sale, but it wasn't a sale. Mexico was not in the best of conditions and Santa Anna decided on the path of conciliation in order to avoid another war. "It continues to affect our relationship, not as much as the war with the United States, but obviously, it is one of the major cases we make against American policy."