NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Mexico's Revolution from Within

April 8, 2004

The transformation of Mexico into a new democracy was mainly the result of citizen resistance within the country -- from the ground up -- not outside influences, according to the book, "Opening Mexico -- The Making of Democracy," by Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon.

The authors explain that Mexico's longstanding rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was characterized by corruption, crackdowns on opposition and ineptitude:

  • In 1968, student protestors in Mexico City were gunned down by the Mexican Army, and the government refused to reveal details to the public.
  • After a devastating earthquake in 1985, citizens became enraged after the government's lax response prompted them to start their own "rescue brigades," which eventually lead to the formation of grass-roots political parties.

Preston and Dillon's book highlight major players who took on PRI corruption:

  • Journalists began refusing hush money from PRI officials in order to expose corruption.
  • Dissident Arturo Alcalde championed better conditions for workers and the right to form independent unions, in spite of his suffering physical torture.

The United States generally ignored the PRI's corrupt leadership until the downfall of president Carlos Salinas and the Mexican peso crisis in 1995. The United States bailed out Mexico on the condition that it put up oil-export revenues as collateral for loans and that U.S. inspectors have access to Mexico's central bank records.

The embarrassment of Mexican citizens relinquishing some of their sovereignty for a financial bailout was the proverbial last straw. In July 2000, the ruling PRI party was voted out.

Source: Geri Smith, "Mexican Renaissance," BusinessWeek, March 29, 2004; based on Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, "Opening Mexico - The Making of a Democracy," Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March 2004.


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