On July 2, 2000, Mexico changed, perhaps forever. On that date, Vicente Fox, the candidate of the opposition National Action Party (PAN) was elected president of Mexico. For the first time since the Mexican Revolution of 1911, an opposition candidate was chosen president in an open democratic election. In Opening Mexico, Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon relate the story of Mexico's single-party rule and its 2000 transition to a successful multiparty democracy in, as one would expect from two prizewinning newspaper correspondents, an involving journalistic style.Opening Mexico combines the authors’ personal experiences from 1995 to 2000, when they reported events in Mexico for The New York Times, as well as other visits to Mexico, with a narrative of the events and personages that led up to the 2000 election.
For most of the twentieth century, the party of government, and of much else in Mexico, was the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or its predecessors. Through the decades, political opposition to the PRI was either nonexistent or minimal and irrelevant. The PRI had many accomplishments to its credit. In comparison to most Latin American nations, the PRI had provided Mexico with political stability. In the first decade or so after the revolution of 1911, Mexico's political leaders often died violently, including two presidents who were assassinated in the 1920's. To end the cycle of violence, the official National Revolutionary Party (PNR) was established in the early 1930's. Under Lazero Cardenas, in about 1940 the PNR was renamed the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM), which in turn became the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1946.
Thus from the early 1930's, a single political party dominated Mexican politics, and after its founding there were no military coups d’état, no man-on-horseback syndrome, and no caudillo phenomenon, unlike elsewhere in Latin America. Every six years political power was transferred peacefully from the president to his successor. However, the selection of the future president was not a democratic process. There were no primary elections in which the voters had any input, and there were no political conventions where delegates determined the candidate. The public's participation in what was a mock-drama was that every six years they got to vote, although in reality there was only one person for whom to vote. The incumbent president's was the only vote that truly counted because he, and only he, chose his successor, and with only one party, the chosen candidate always triumphed. The results were predestined by el sistema (the system). Under the guise of democracy, the system was a dictatorship.
The PRI had accomplishments other than order and stability. One of the causes of the 1911 revolution was the demand for land reform. Too few Mexicans (and some foreigners) owned and controlled too much land. In the aftermath of the revolution, and particularly during the presidency of Cardenas in the 1930's, a significant (if not complete) restructuring of the landed resources of Mexico took place. Cardenas also nationalized the mineral resources of Mexico, particularly the oil reserves, a decision that caused considerable enmity between the Mexican government and foreign, mostly American, oil companies. Educational opportunities increased, as did the availability of medical care. The PRI and its supporters had much to be proud about, again particularly in comparison to many other Latin American nations, but pride can lead to hubris, and power tends to corrupt. Over the decades, abuse of power and various modes of corruption, political and economic, invaded and infiltrated the governing system.
The PRI leadership and its ordinary members equated the PRI to Mexico itself. To be against the PRI was to be against the state, to be unpatriotic. For many Mexicans, particularly workers and peasants, the PRI's appeal worked. They enthusiastically supported and voted for the PRI candidates on both the local and federal levels, even though through the years Mexico's majority did not improve, rather the reverse.
The PRI, however, went further than just wrapping itself in the Mexican flag. Elections were often uncontested—or if contested, the opposition candidates and parties had no chance of political victory....
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