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Although NATO changes are important to U.S. ...

U.S./Mexican flags

Mexican political shifts hit closer to home

July 9, 1997
Web posted at: 9:16 p.m. EDT (0116 GMT)

Essay from Correspondent Garrick Utley

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Clinton's meeting in Madrid with NATO leaders may seem unrelated to the recent election results in Mexico.

But both events have big implications for the United States' strategic position in the world -- and how that role is changing.

It was the old East-West contest that was on the agenda in Madrid as NATO's 16 members voted to expand the military alliance toward Russia's border by adding three countries.

CNN's Garrick Utley reports
icon 2 min., 40 sec. VXtreme streaming video

For nearly a half century, NATO and the Cold War were at the heart of American and European concerns about their joint survival.

An older generation of Americans remembers an overconfident Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev promising to bury the West and capitalism.

But that was in the past, and the debate now is whether having Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary join NATO is a smart move that will strengthen security, or whether the NATO expansion is merely a face lift for an aging alliance.

Many Americans dutifully followed the NATO maneuvering, but how many sensed that the real action -- and change -- was occurring closer to home?

Celebration after the elections

During Sunday's Mexican elections, one-party rule suffered a crushing defeat as the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) party lost its grip on the lower house of Congress for the first time since 1929 and relinquished its political control of Mexico City.

Two months ago, Clinton visited Mexico on one of the regular, if often perfunctory, meetings U.S. presidents have with Mexican leaders. Immigration, drugs and corruption have long created problems between the two countries. But one-party rule at least kept Mexico stable.

Now the old status quo is gone. In a nation of 91 million people, the elections cast a spotlight on Mexico's problems -- the widening gap between rich and poor and mounting social tensions.

The hope is that greater democracy will help solve Mexico's troubles. Still, if geography is destiny, Americans may find that, increasingly, their foreign policy concerns will not be across the Atlantic or the Pacific -- but south of the border.

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