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OPENING MEXICO by Julia Preston Kirkus Star


The Making of a Democracy

by Julia Preston & Samuel Dillon

Pub Date: March 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-374-22668-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Superb from-the-barricades portrait of Mexico’s second revolution, which is still unfolding.

New York Times reporters Preston and Dillon offer a vivid account of matters that would have been common knowledge to American readers had newspapers or newsmagazines showed interest in our southern neighbor’s affairs: the complex transformation of a one-party system, the longest-ruling in the world, into a pluralistic democracy. In fairness to American readers, Preston and Dillon observe, the momentous process, known to Mexicans as el cambio—the change—caught many Mexicans unaware, too: “Mexico’s second revolution was accomplished so efficiently and peacefully that not many Mexicans, and even fewer outsiders, really grasped the historic dimensions of the event.” Whatever the case, the Mexican electorate ended more than 70 years of one-party rule in July 2000, turning out the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in favor of newcomer Vicente Fox’s National Action Party (PAN). The change had many agents: labor activists, the disaffected urban poor, supporters of the Zapatista rebel movement, middle-class intellectuals, ordinary citizens shocked by corruption and the brutality of the police and military. It also had an unlikely ally in PRI president and party leader Ernesto Zedillo, who, like Mikhail Gorbachev (to whom he has been likened), bowed to the inevitable and accepted the will of the people—even if many party stalwarts, and their American hireling James Carville, did not. Though Fox, who won 43 percent of the vote in a three-way race, has been a disappointment—so Preston and Dillon conclude—the awakening has made all the difference: “It soon became obvious that [Fox’s] victory would not bring prosperity, equality, and justice overnight. . . . But nobody seriously questioned the essential vigor of the democracy Mexicans had constructed, and the country’s peaceful transition remained a source of pride.”

As good a look at Mexico as has been written by outsiders since Alan Riding’s Distant Neighbors (1984), and essential for students of Latin American affairs.