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Nongovernmental Organizations in Mexico's Northern Border

Carol Zabin


This article documents and analyzes the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) along the western part of Mexico's northern border. The research is based on fieldwork with 26 Mexican civic, not-for-profit organizations that promote social change and community development in the areas of environmental protection, poverty alleviation, and human, indigenous, and women's rights in Tijuana, Mexicali, Agua Prieta, Nogales, and Ciudad Juárez. Border NGOs are classified with respect to their activities and working style, focusing particularly on their relationship to their grassroots constituencies. The strongest NGOs are environmental groups, which in general work in policy-oriented research and lobbying, and economic development NGOs, which mostly promote small business development. NGOs promoting a variety of civil rights generally operate with few resources and relatively little competency to carry out long-term capacity building among their constituencies. The article shows that in contrast to NGOs in Mexico's interior, which have developed as allies of poor people's social movements, NGOs along the northern border do not have strong links with grassroots organizations of the urban or rural poor, thus limiting their effectiveness in promoting democratization and poverty alleviation. The author explores the factors contributing to the unique characteristics of border NGOs, including border culture and politics, ties to U.S. NGOs, and the recent creation of many border NGOs.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229