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Volume 65 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: MEXICO


RODERIC A. CAMP, Professor of Government, Claremont-McKenna College

SCHOLARSHIP ON MEXICAN POLITICS has followed several well-established trends beginning with HLAS 59. The most important development that began with that volume and that accompanied the changing context of Mexican politics, was a strong interest in electoral politics. While this interest reflects a natural shift and is highly relevant for understanding what is happening in Mexico in the 2000s, it is being pursued to the neglect of many other equally relevant topics. Furthermore, most of this literature has become repetitive and rarely is characterized by originality or significant research, especially field research which would complement what are otherwise merely analyses of voting statistics.

Some notable exceptions to this general conclusion about the weaknesses in voting studies can be found. Broadly speaking, Alba Vega's edited work Regionalismo y federalismo, because of its revealing comparisons with other countries, including Yugoslavia, Germany and Spain, is such a case (item #bi2008000259#). Not only is regionalism the single most important variable that emerges from the 2006 presidential election, but a number of authors in the selection of works below explore these issues through their analyses of relevant cultural and historical patterns. Additionally, Klesner (item #bi2009004625#), like Alejandro Moreno from Mexico, who has been analyzing Mexican elections for more than two decades, focuses on regional alignments since the 1990s, offering interpretations about the consequences of geographic and other shifts in the partisan loyalties of the electorate in his empirical analysis of national election data.

Other scholars too have addressed the issue of political participation in broader, imaginative ways. For example, Somuano Ventura (item #bi2007000391#), in her essay "Más allá del voto," examines nonvoting forms of political participation using extensive survey research from the World Values Surveys since the 1980s as well as the recent national political culture survey produced by Mexico's secretariat of government. She discovers opposing trends of participation among ordinary citizens. Perhaps the most original approach to understanding the outcome of the electoral process, an area which has received no attention since Camp's collection, Polling for Democracy, Public Opinion and Political Liberalization in Mexico (1996; see HLAS 57:3101), is Rottinghaus and Alberro's "Rivaling the PRI: the Image Management of Vicente Fox and the Use of Public Opinion Polling in the 2000 Mexican Election" (item #bi2009004630#), based on interviews with many of the key media advisers on Fox's campaign staff. They demonstrate unequivocally that Fox understood the importance of the information provided by polls and used that information to tailor his campaign to Mexican voters. His attitude toward polling in contrast to that of his leading opponent, PRI's Francisco Labastida, contributed crucially to his electoral victory. Finally, Hiskey, who has pursued Klesner's scholarly approach, authoring numerous articles rather than monographs, brings his analysis, true of much of his work, to the local level, to determine whether democratic politics affects public policy, specifically the ability of communities to solve poverty through demand-based programs (item #bi2006001557#).

Democratic institutions, deserving of much greater attention from Mexicanists, continue to be largely neglected in the literature from both sides of the border. Nevertheless, the judiciary continues to receive some attention. Báez Silva (item #bi2007003218#), following the lead of judicial scholars of the US, analyzes Mexican supreme court decisions from 1995–2002. He also demonstrates the federal court system's expansion since the 1980s, dramatically increasing citizens' potential access to judicial institutions. At the local level, Beer, whose earlier book on state legislatures was a major work, has shifted her emphasis, but continuing on the state and local level, to the judiciary. In her first article, "Judicial Performance and the Rule of Law in the Mexican States" (item #bi2007000417#), she uses case studies of Aguascalientes and Guanajuato to provide insights into the effectiveness of the judicial process on the rule of law. Beer also looks at the impact of other variables nationwide, such as the extent of participation in the judicial system. In a second essay on human rights, another topic on which little scholarly literature exists for Mexico, she tests numerous variables and their impact on the relationship between democratic behavior and the protection of human rights (item #bi2005004723#). She discovers that electoral accountability and citizen participation are crucial explanations for democracy's ability to improve human rights. For a darker view of the rule of law and the inability of police reforms to bring about change under a democratic government, see the essay by Diane Davis (item #bi2007000424#). Her previous book on governance in the Federal District offered numerous insights about decision-making, but her article provides evidence to suggest that democratic efforts at reform have actually undermined the rule of law and democracy itself.

In HLAS 63, scholars paid increased attention to the legislative branch. Unfortunately, this emphasis has not continued into HLAS 65. The one study which stands out on Congress is Béjar Algazi's analysis of the issue of party discipline's role in influencing legislation and its relationship to executive initiated legislation and its passage through Congress (item #bi2006002245#). She reveals how each party's respective rules for congressional comportment affects their interactions with each other and with the executive branch.

Other influential political actors outside of governmental institutions include business groups, intellectuals, the media, unions, NGOs, the Catholic Church, and antisystem actors, such as the Zapatistas. Few of these actors have attracted serious scholarly efforts. Indeed, we did not encounter any significant individual contributions on unions, the Church, or NGOs, suggesting declining interest in these topics. Schneider authored a major essay on the business-government relationship (item #bi2007000017#). He is a non-Mexicanist who published an outstanding book on this topic in Brazil. His "Why is Mexican Business so Organized?" is an important analysis on the leading influential business organization, the Consejo Mexicano de Hombres de Negocios, and other "peak" business organizations, and their relationship to the executive branch. Hughes, one of the few serious scholars of the media, produced Newsrooms in Conflict: Journalism and the Democratization of Mexico (item #bi2006002175#), an outstanding analysis of newspapers' role in Mexico's democratic transformation, complementing the equally important earlier monograph by Chappell Lawson. Her book is based on extensive interviews with leading journalists, benefitting strongly from her own career as a reporter for the Miami Herald as well as her journalistic career in Mexico.

Intellectuals rarely receive any attention among Mexicanists, especially their relationship to government and politics. Brewsters' wonderful book contributes to a better understanding of this relationship through her analysis of four leading Mexican figures, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Carlos Monsiváis, and Elena Poniatowska (item #bi2005006253#). She evaluates the impact of their writings on politics from the student massacre in Tlatelolco Plaza in 1968 through Ernesto Zedillo's election. The Zapatistas continue to attract scholarly attention, but as has been the case previously, few contributions are truly noteworthy. The exception to this is Pérez-Ruiz's massive, 788-page book which should be viewed as an essential source on the Zapatistas, analyzing every aspect of the movement before and after it emerges, both within and outside of Chiapas (item #bi2008000267#). This is an outstanding work of scholarship. An interesting essay by Guillén (item #bi2005003115#), which focuses on governance in Chiapas, not the EZLN itself, provides numerous, relevant insights into why such a movement would emerge in Chiapas, and explains the failure of the Chiapas government to mold institutions and processes that would have increased citizen access, including indigenous populations, to government.

Several helpful edited collections, which do address some of these and other important political actors, have appeared since HLAS 63. The earliest of these is Middlebrook's, Dilemmas of Political Change (item #bi2007001695#), an outstanding collection that includes essays on executive-legislative relations, civil-military relations, and business and politics by many leading scholars from both sides of the border. These essays cover the period of the late 1990s. The second edited collection is Tulchin and Selee's, Mexico's Politics and Society in Transition (item #bi2008000241#), which includes a range of political topics and actors, including labor, the military, and the Zapatistas, as well as women, who have been significantly neglected during this period of scholarship The third collection, edited by Peschard-Sverdrup and Rioff (item #bi2008000249#), also analyzes similar institutions, including the legislative branch, the judicial branch, civil-military relations, the media, but includes an equally neglected actor, the Catholic Church and the religious relationship between church and state, in an excellent essay by González Schmal.

The one new institutional actor that continues to receive deserved attention since the beginning of the democratization process are political parties. Shirk's outstanding book on the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) is based on field research that focuses on the many internal conflicts over the party's strategy to defeat the PRI in the electoral arena (item #bi2008000277#). Shirk's book complements Mizrahi's earlier work. The PRD has fared even better than PAN with two new books worthy of attention. Vivero Avila's Desafiando al sistema la izquierda política en México: Evolución organizativa, ideológica y electoral del Partido de la Revolución Democrática, 1989–2005 is an excellent examination of the party's internal conflicts (item #bi2008000261#), updating Bruhn's classic work. Martínez González offers the most detailed analysis of the career experiences and political origins of the party's various leadership factions to date, a book essential to understanding the party's evolution since 1989 (item #bi2008000239#).

Finally, one feature of predemocratic Mexico continues to attract scholarly attention: clientelism. Schedler examines the continuation of this traditional feature of Mexican politics during the initial years of the Fox administration (item #bi2006003797#). He concludes, based on his extensive interviews with rural Mexicans, that most citizens actually are opposed to these social and cultural relationships, and that democratization has produced that opposition. The most important policy issue in Mexico today, other than crime and violence, which strangely has received little attention, is poverty. The collection Alternancia, políticas sociales y desarrollo regional en México explores poverty and social policy in the region, providing many comparisons with Mexico (item #bi2008000264#). It incorporates a number of case studies and evaluates leading antipoverty programs and strategies.


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