Appointment: Kluge Fellow, 2013
Area of study: International Relations, Latin American History
Affiliation(s): Boston University
Kluge Center project: Mexico’s Cold War: Cuba, the United States, and the Struggle Over the Legacy of the Mexican Revolution
Residency: September 2013 – May 2014
May 1, 2014
How did Mexico navigate the complicated dynamics between Cuba and the United States during the Cold War?
Historian Renata Keller, Kluge Fellow at The John W. Kluge Center, has been researching the relationship between Mexico, Cuba, and the United States during the 1960’s at the Kluge Center.
Keller has spent the past nine months as a scholar-in-residence at The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. She is researching a new book on how Mexico managed its relationships with Cuba and the United States in the decade after the Cuban Revolution, and how Mexican policymakers balanced Mexico’s strategic interests with the demands of U.S. officials and the sympathies of pro-Cuban revolutionaries.
“When people talk about Mexico’s relationship with the U.S., it centers on how the U.S. pressures Mexico or dictates policy to Mexico,” Keller says. “My book challenges that idea. Mexico pushed back against the U.S. vis-à-vis Cuba, and U.S. policymakers changed their policies in response to Mexico’s needs,” she says. “As for Cuba and Mexico, my work shows that it was not so much a friendly relationship between the two countries but a relationship that proved useful for both sides for different reasons.”
One example, Keller says, is the Latin American Conference for National Sovereignty, Economic Emancipation and Peace in 1961, held approximately one month before the Bay of Pigs invasion. CIA director Alan Dulles traveled to Mexico in order to pressure Mexican president Adolfo López Mateos to cancel the pro-Cuban conference. López Mateos refused, citing enthusiasm among Mexican citizens. The conference occurred, received media coverage across the world, and boosted Leftist groups in Latin America, which is evidence of Mexico’s ability to counter U.S. pressure during the period, Keller says.
Newly released Mexican intelligence reports have enabled Keller’s research, she says. These primary sources, newly available in Mexico, reveal what information Mexican leaders received in order to set their policies, and offer new insight into the decision-making process of Mexican leaders.
At the Library of Congress, Keller has been examining contemporary newspapers from Mexico and Cuba that provide a useful context for the new Mexican intelligence reports. As the reports may have biases or misleading information, press coverage can offer vital clarification. Keller is also reading Cuban memoirs deposited in the Library of Congress, which are not available other places and that lend a Cuban perspective to the events. In late April, Keller traveled to Cuba and gained research access to a variety of recently declassified materials in Cuba’s Foreign Ministry archive. All of her work is uncovering new information on how the three countries related to each other.
“At stake is an understanding of who has agency,” Keller says. “Not only do U.S. policymakers have agency, but Latin American policymakers do as well—as well as people in civil society. My work helps show that people such as Leftist groups and the communist party—which people often dismiss when it comes to Mexico—had a real impact on international relations. This work expands the field of who is actually involved in determining the course of international affairs.”
Keller is in residence at the Kluge Center through May.
- “Mexico's Cold War: Cuba, the United States, and the Struggle Over the Legacy of the Mexican Revolution” (Feb. 20, 2014)
- Kluge Fellowships at The John W. Kluge Center. Learn more