As the twentieth century comes to an end, the relationship between the United States and Mexico has grown in visibility, scope, and complexity, becoming one of the most important bilateral relationships for the United States in the world. In its 1994 polling of elite public opinion, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations noted that Mexico tied with Russia at the top of a list of countries in which the United States has “vital interests,” an increase of four points over the previous poll conducted in 1988. The broader public ranked Mexico fifth in importance, up from thirteenth in the earlier survey.
Mexico’s growing importance in American public opinion is a reflection of fundamental changes taking place in Mexico and the world economy, changes that have increased the economic integration of both countries. In 1950, Mexico was a largely rural country of 26 million people with a life expectancy of 49 years and a literacy rate of 50 percent. In 1997, Mexico is an overwhelmingly urban country with 97 million inhabitants where the life expectancy is 69 years and the literacy rate is 87 percent. Mexico is now the eleventh most populous country inthe world, with an industrial economy that ranks among the top 15.