Mexico: The Struggle for Democratic Development

Mexico: The Struggle for Democratic Development

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ISBN-13: 9780520228313
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 09/24/2001
Edition description: Older Edition
Pages: 382
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Daniel C. Levy, Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York, Albany, is the coauthor of Mexico: Paradoxes of Stability and Change (1983). Kathleen Bruhn, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is the author of Taking on Goliath: The Emergence of a New Left Party and the Struggle for Democracy in Mexico (1997). Emilio Zebadúa, Harvard University Ph.D. and ex-Secretary of Political Affairs for the state of Chiapas, is now a member of the Mexican Congress.

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The Struggle for Democratic Development

The University of California Press

Copyright © 2001 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-24694-2

Chapter One

The Changing Course of Development


Democracy is central to an understanding of Mexico's present and future. It is the main theme in the discourse over where Mexico is headed and where it ought to be headed. Deficiencies in democracy are often blamed for much of Mexico's past and persisting problems, and democratization is commonly taken as key to the accomplishment of other development goals: with a robust democracy, economic and social gains are possible and the future will be brighter; without such democracy, the future is bleak.

The Democratic Imperative

The perception that democracy is imperative has become so strong that those wishing to influence Mexico's course of development have tied all their major goals to it. Because this democratic imperative is thematic to Mexican development and discourse, it is thematic to this book. Accordingly, the book couples its analysis of wide-ranging development concerns-historical, political, social, economic, and international-with a focus on how these issues both affect and depend on democratization.

By viewing democracy as the heart of development, Mexico hassigned on to a major worldwide tendency. This does not mean that Mexico will achieve the democracy it needs, however; alternatives are possible. Political rivals in Mexico often portray each other as undemocratic, sometimes with good reason. Authoritarian practices persist both inside and outside government, and not all proclaimed commitments to democracy are sincere. Nonetheless, most Mexicans realize that democracy is now the mandatory battleground in the ongoing struggle for power. Additionally, a consensus that democracy is central to development does not mean a consensus over what democracy is. Rather, definitions of democracy vary widely in Mexico, as they do generally. Some definitions go beyond the common emphasis on freedom and elections to include socioeconomic benefits or equality. Similarly, Mexicans are divided over what is part of the definition of democracy as opposed to the probable or desired outcome of democracy (e.g., expanded citizen interest in politics, expanded educational opportunity). Mexicans are also divided over what brings about meaningful democracy, over the role different actors should play, and over what degree of power each player should have to facilitate democratization. These divisions shape Mexico's struggle for democratic development.

Although this book identifies the different views of democracy (and development) at hand in Mexico, we do not suggest that all perspectives are equally valid. Rather, we adopt a definition of democracy close to the mainstream definitions of political science, which stress honest political competition that is open to the citizenry. These definitions usually include three overlapping components:

Open competition among alternative public policies that are meaningfully different and organized, so that choices largely reflect citizens' preferences;

Similarly open participation in selecting leadership, especially through fair elections;

Freedom broad and secure enough to guarantee citizens' basic rights and the integrity of the competition and participation just mentioned.

Judgments about when Mexico might have become democratic turn largely on how high one sets the threshold for compliance-how competitive must competitive be, how fair must fair be, and so on. There is little debate about the past: Mexico has historically fallen far short on all three criteria (let alone the socioeconomic criteria some demand). But with political liberalization since the 1970s, intensified in the 1990s, Mexico moved much closer on each measure. Some argued that Mexico in the 1990s finally met the basic democratic criteria. Others maintained that Mexico still basically lacks one or more of the three criteria. These critics continued to apply the common label for Mexico's classic political system: authoritarian, although usually with a qualifying adjective (such as benign, moderate, or inclusionary) to indicate differences from harsher varieties of authoritarianism. Our preferred label for Mexican reality for most of the last two decades of the twentieth century is more generous: semidemocracy. This term captures the sense of a system between authoritarian and democratic but at least as democratic as authoritarian, with prospects of a proximate democratic future.

Indeed, Mexico stepped dramatically into that democratic future with the 2000 presidential elections. Through an open, free, and competitive process, Mexicans voted an opposition party into the presidency and a coalition it headed into a congressional plurality, while overwhelmingly reinstalling another opposition party to control of Mexico City. In retrospect, the 1997 congressional elections appear as a watershed. They established the precedent that a cleaner and more open electoral process could lead to an opposition majority in the legislature and victory in the first-ever local election in Mexico City, without resulting in constitutional breakdown or chaos. When then President Ernesto Zedillo declared that the 1997 elections demonstrated that Mexico had reached "democratic normality," his statement rang much truer than when his predecessor, Carlos Salinas, had spoken of "perfecting democracy." The peaceful transition of power from President Zedillo to President Vicente Fox in December 2000 left even semidemocracy as too stingy a term.

Mexico's entry into the democratic club is an epic event, but it marks the continuation of a complex process of change. It is important to understand authoritarian Mexico and semidemocratic Mexico, including the persistent elements and legacies of each, because many features of Mexican politics today remain better described as authoritarian or semidemocratic than democratic. Just as Mexico made significant democratic progress in the decades before 2000, so further progress is needed. For one thing, a challenge for any new democracy is consolidation. For another, although a summary evaluation of the Mexican political system overall is that advances meet reasonable thresholds on the three criteria of democracy, incompleteness, doubt, and fragility remain on all three. A set of free elections is thus necessary but insufficient evidence of clear, vibrant democracy.

The club of democratic nations encompasses a great variety of political realities. Many Latin American democracies, including those dating from the 1980s and further back, suffer from limitations on fair competition, open and inclusive participation, free expression, secure rights, and accountability to the citizenry. Mexican scholar Enrique Krauze's call in 1986 for a Mexican "democracy without adjectives" resonates throughout the region and remains relevant today for Mexico. In fact, real-world democracy nearly always comes with adjectives, and even advanced democracies struggle to make democracy more robust and less qualified. For countries such as Mexico the challenge is more fundamental: the character and strength of democracy are yet to be determined. So although the general and quite inexact one-word label "democratic" is now appropriate for the Mexican political system, the struggle for less qualified democracy remains at the heart of the struggle for development.

Mexico's struggle ties into more than a regional dynamic. For one thing democratization has become a central issue in much of the developing world as well as in the formerly communist countries. The debate over democracy-its meaning and its centrality to development-is now a common one. Beyond that, political change in Mexico has become inextricably intertwined with internationalization. For Mexico "internationalization" primarily means entry to a U.S.-led political-economic world. Not all external influences on Mexico or all steps to link Mexico to other nations have democratic effects. Rather, the point is that Mexican development now depends intimately on both democratization and internationalization, simultaneously and in vigorous relationship with one another. Fusing these two imperatives successfully is Mexico's great challenge. Linked to the overarching theme of democratic development, this challenge receives considerable attention in this book.

The U.S. public tends to see democracy as a matter of will, as something that honest and well-intentioned people can rather easily agree upon and achieve; once democratic elections occur, many believe, a country has arrived. Scholarship on democracy tells a different story, however. Democracy has been much more the exception than the rule in developing countries: it is difficult to agree on what it is and how to pursue it, and it is difficult to bring it about-and then difficult to expand, consolidate, and maintain it. No simple blueprint exists. The struggle for democracy requires that advocates and scholars alike take a broad look at development and the mix of elements (socioeconomic, etc.) that may support democracy. If, for example, a higher gross domestic product (GDP) correlates with robust democracy, would an economic policy that increases GDP encourage democracy even if it favors business groups and foreign interests over most workers? Mexico's struggle for democracy cannot be isolated from its general struggle for development.


Any consideration of Mexican development-what it has been and how it is changing-must come to grips with political stability. This book examines how stability dating back to the 1930s has been crucial to undemocratic development and how its transformation is crucial to the struggle for democratic development. Many of the building blocks of Mexico's stability (such as the regular, peaceful turnover of civilian leadership) have routinely been considered integral to stable democracy elsewhere, but in Mexico they supported stability without democracy. In fact, stability facilitated economic growth, and this success had antidemocratic consequences, strengthening the system's ability to ward off democratic demands. The best that could honestly be said for the impact of stability on democracy was that its effect was indirect or limited: stability might build the demand and underpinnings for democracy in the long run by supporting economic growth and social change; meanwhile, by reducing the rulers' perceived need for repression, it softened the nondemocratic system. Today political stability remains essential to Mexican development, but perceptions of its prerequisites have changed. Stability increasingly depends on successful democratization. Some have even identified democratization as a key "national security" issue, necessary for Mexico's internal peace and stability.

For most of the twentieth century the linchpin of Mexico's vaunted political stability was a unique set of political institutions that limited competition and choice, yet incorporated broad social groups and permitted some pluralism of opinion within a diverse ruling elite. Stability was the achievement on which Mexican development was unmatched in Latin America. Defying repeated cries that instability would ensue if Mexico did not solve this or that development problem or meet the justified demands of this or that dissident group, Mexico maintained its political regime throughout most of the century. The party intertwined with the regime outlasted the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as the longest-ruling party in the world, right up to 2000. Thanks to the regime's skill and flexibility, as well as the rewards it helped bring to many, Mexico is the only major Latin American nation to have avoided both a military coup and a serious communist rebellion in the post-World War II period. Every president selected since 1934 has survived his six-year term and then relinquished office peacefully to his successor. This experience contrasts with the rise and fall of democratic and authoritarian regimes throughout Latin America, making Mexico the Latin American country most often cited by governments, international banks, and political scientists as a model of development through political stability.

The price, in the view of many critics, has been a model of development that subordinates democracy and socioeconomic justice to a sterile stability. The obsession with stability has even been portrayed as a curse, allowing government to impose unpopular and ineffective policies without democratic accountability. Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa coined the ironic phrase "the perfect dictatorship" to convey how skillfully the Mexican system functioned until recently to limit popular influence by creating a pretense of democracy.

The contemporary struggle for democracy has also implied a struggle over the terms of political stability, particularly the relationship between stability and the institutions that used to guarantee it. Mexican stability used to mean regime hegemony. The regime had a considerable capacity to control and contain political conflict, to determine development policy, to shape events and outcomes, to mold social organization, and to establish dominant social values. Yet perpetuation of such a regime became an unlikely basis for long-term political stability, and its restoration is now an equally unlikely basis. The regime largely lost the magic by which it could present itself as nearly synonymous with the political system, sometimes even with the nation or its course of development. In fact, the regime turned into a tottering spectacle. Conflicts between regime and society and within the regime itself became common, and as the regime struggled to reconstruct itself on new ground, the old sense of security gave way to surprises. Uncertainty overtook certainty. Whereas a rumor of a military coup once could be laughed off, in the 1990s such a rumor could unnerve financial markets. Whereas the metaphor of the "revolutionary family" used to suggest a tightly knit establishment, that family image began to look more like negative portraits of the modern U.S. family: besieged, insecure, dysfunctional, and unstable. Even if the long-reigning party returns to rule under competitive elections, it can never again rule on its own terms as a government party. Nor can any other party in power. The major question about stability, and thus a primary theme running throughout this book, becomes, How can stability be reconstructed on a more democratic and competitive basis?

Just as the democratic imperative transforms the meaning and under-pinnings of political stability, so too it transforms the role of economic change. Mexico's stable development depended on a mutually reinforcing relationship between political stability and economic growth. Stability made investment worthwhile and, in turn, growth provided rewards that the regime could distribute to gain further support. This was particularly true as long as the government maintained ownership of certain critical parts of the economy and provided key incentives for other sectors. In the 1990s, however, Mexico enthusiastically joined an international "neoliberal" trend that stressed reduction of the government role in the economy. Chapter 5 in this book contrasts the old and new economic models, but the point here is that Mexico's long-standing political-economic relationship is in flux. Both the political and economic systems must change fundamentally to remain viable, and they are changing, but fundamental change in one area brings challenges to the other. For example, economic changes inflict at least short-term losses on many citizens just when the political system has lost its prior ability to control opposition. Some doubt whether the changing political system retains the resilience to survive the sorts of economic crises the authoritarian system weathered in the past. Mexico's regime transition and its continued democratization carry risks of volatility, uncertainty, and performance failures that could jeopardize the political stability necessary for economic growth.


Excerpted from MEXICO by DANIEL C. LEVY KATHLEEN BRUHN Copyright © 2001 by Regents of the University of California . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acronyms and Abbreviations


Forward by Lorenzo Meyer

1. The Changing Course of Development

2. Legacies and Undemocratic Development

3. The Rise of Political Competition

4. Difficult Democracy

5. The State and the Market

6. Mexico in a U.S.-Led World

7. Bilateral Issues

8. The Struggle for Democratic Development



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