6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

‘Crimes Against the Security of the Nation’: World War II, the Cold War, and the Evolution of Mexico’s Anti-Subversion Laws, 1941-1970

While, until recently, relatively little attention has been given to the importance of international conditions in accounting for the longevity of Mexico’s post-revolutionary regime, Halbert Jones will show how World War II and the Cold War played a pivotal role in enabling successive Mexican governments to enact, expand, and apply one of its most controversial legal tools, a provision in the federal penal code criminalizing what it described as acts of “social dissolution.”  The legislation, in force from 1941 to 1970, prescribed severe penalties for vaguely defined crimes of subversion, and it was invoked over the course of those decades against striking workers, student protesters, and a famous communist muralist, among others who were said to be spreading “foreign propaganda” and undermining national security.  By the time Mexico’s 1968 student movement called for the repeal of the measure, however, it had become a symbol of what critics saw as the arbitrary nature of the regime.  The removal of the provision from the books in 1970 – and its replacement with a clause introducing the new crime of “terrorism” – therefore highlights the ability of an authoritarian political system to adapt to changing international and domestic political conditions.

Halbert Jones is Director of the North American Studies Programme at St Antony’s College, Oxford.  He received his doctorate in history from Harvard University and is the author of The War Has Brought Peace to Mexico: World War II and the Consolidation of the Post-Revolutionary State (University of New Mexico Press, 2014).  Dr Jones has previously held positions at Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and at the Office of the Historian of the State Department, where he co-edited the Foreign Relations of the United States volumes covering US policy towards Latin America during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.