100 Years of Kissinger

May 27 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henry Kissinger, one of the most influential figures in 20th century world politics. Throughout his career, Kissinger was very influential in U.S. national security, domestic policy and diplomacy. Born May 27, 1923, in Germany, Heinz Alfred Kissinger moved to New York in 1938 with his family, fleeing Nazi persecution because of the family’s Jewish roots. During the final years of World War II, he worked in military intelligence. A few years later, he studied political science, graduating from Harvard with honors.

Kissinger served as Secretary of State for presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford from 1969 to 1977. He played a key, though controversial, role in developing the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, helping to normalize ties between the two countries after the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968 and working to promote economic cooperation and a cordial diplomatic relationship. In 1970, he assisted in the negotiation of the treaty that jump-started the relationship among Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. This treaty contemplated the creation of the North American Development Bank, which is dedicated to granting loans to Mexican and Canadian businesses, and which has continued up to the present day as a bilateral financial institution which strengthened North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations.

His contributions have had a huge impact on Mexico’s domestic and foreign policy. Kissinger was acclaimed for his understanding that no country has a more permanent place in the foreign policy of the U.S. than Mexico. The importance of maintaining a close bilateral relationship, recognizing Mexico’s geopolitical relevance, follows from that. However, his legacy is complex and susceptible to questioning; although he promoted economic growth and stability in Mexico, at the same time he tolerated human rights abuses by the authoritarian government of Mexican President Luis Echeverría Álvarez.*

With that same pragmatic focus, he joined in the development of Mexico’s foreign policy so it could take on a leading role and become a stronger bridge between Latin America and the U.S. In so doing, Mexico adopted a diplomatic posture aimed at promoting peace and stability in Central America.

His involvement was not intended just to benefit Mexico. Understandably, his ultimate goal was to favor and prioritize the gain for his own country while always supporting a commitment to liberal democracy, the market-oriented economy and free trade and respect for the rule of law as a basis for common understanding and the possibility of creating wealth and conditions of well-being for the citizens of both countries.

In the twilight of his life, Kissinger remains a controversial figure because of his track record of intervention (perhaps interventionism) in global politics which, in the case of Mexico, was quite clear in the last third of the 20th century. He transcended this with his pragmatic focus and veiled commitment to dialogue and cooperation, which contributed to the strengthening of the bilateral relationship with the U.S. as well as to the positioning of Mexico as a significant player in the region. Today, with the passage of time, it is possible to reflect on his consistent position that Mexico must think and act from a North American perspective. It must act, that is, as an integral part of the bloc of countries that make up North America, not with a unilateral and isolated national posture, but rather with forward-looking vision and purposes that set aside the romanticism of the Bolivarian dream, counterbalancing the risk that the American dream turns into counterproductive illusion. In this respect, it is the task of those of us in government to conduct ourselves with sovereignty and sensitivity along the route that is best suited for Mexico to achieve its rightful place while recognizing our geopolitical reality.

*Editor’s Note: Luis Echeverría Álvarez served as the 57th president of Mexico from 1970 to 1976.

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