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Palace Politics

How the Ruling Party Brought Crisis to Mexico

By Jonathan Schlefer

Publication Year: 2008

Bringing rare interviews and meticulous research to the cloaked world of Mexican politics in the mid-twentieth century, Palace Politics provides a captivating look at the authoritarian Mexican state—one of the longest-lived regimes of its kind in recent history—as well as the origins of political instability itself, with revelations that can be applied to a variety of contemporary political situations around the globe. Culling a trove of remarkable firsthand accounts from former Mexican presidents, finance ministers, interior ministers, and other high officials from the 1950s through the 1980s, Jonathan Schlefer describes a world in which elite politics planted the seeds of a mammoth socioeconomic crisis. Palace Politics outlines the process by which political infighting among small rival factions of high officials drove Mexico to precarious situations at all levels of government. Schlefer also demonstrates how, earlier on, elite cooperation among these factions had helped sustain one of the most stable growth economies in Latin America, until all-or-nothing struggles began to tear the Mexican ruling party apart in the 1970s. A vivid, seamlessly narrated history, Palace Politics is essential reading for anyone seeking to better understand not only the nation next door but also the workings of elite politics in general.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

If not for former high Mexican officials’ willingness to be interviewed (I recall only one exception), I could never have written this book. The political class, as Mexicans call it, takes historical research far more seriously than could possibly be expected in most nations. Interviewees talked at length, sometimes for hours on end or continuing on several ...

List of Presidents of Mexico, 1924–2006

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pp. xi

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Introduction: The Politicians’ Testimony

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pp. 1-10

Palace Politics: How the Ruling Party Brought Crisis to Mexico actually begins in the early 1950s, when the Mexican political elite resolved a perilous internecine struggle over the presidency and consolidated what the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa called “the perfect dictatorship.” For two decades it was a remarkably stable political system—no ...

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Chapter 1. Politics At The Heart of The State

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pp. 11-30

In 1986 the struggle for the Mexican presidency was heating up between Finance Secretary Jesús Silva Herzog and Planning and Budget Secretary Carlos Salinas. Both belonged to the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), or Institutional Revolutionary Party. It was not a party in any ordinary sense but, in Mexico’s strange political landscape, ...

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Chapter 2. The Strange Mexican State

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pp. 31-54

For most of the twentieth century the Mexican ruling party seemed eternal. Elections came and went, but they did not determine political succession because the PRI always won. It controlled the presidency, the Congress, and the courts. It did not even lose an important state office until 1988. The ruling party was the arena within which the real contest ...

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Chapter 3. Did Structural Economic Failure Cause The Crises?

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pp. 55-75

Many Mexicans, as well as many foreigners who study Mexico, share the conviction that underlying socioeconomic forces caused the nation’s economic crises. Although Mexico was seen as an economic miracle in the 1950s and 1960s—especially from 1958 to 1970 under the guidance of Finance Minister Antonio Ortiz Mena—it is argued that the economy ...

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Chapter 4. The Macroeconomics of Elite Conflict

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pp. 76-93

The idea that Latin American crises were caused by the “macroeconomics of populism” (the late MIT economist Rudiger Dornbusch’s phrase) is a lot simpler than intricate arguments about how structural industrial problems might work their way through the political system to erupt in the financial economy. It is no secret that “populist” politicians ...

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Chapter 5. The Crises That Didn’t Happen

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pp. 94-116

Having put to rest socioeconomic accounts about Mexico’s crises, the argument now turns to palace politics: how elite cooperation was requisite for economic stability, and how elite struggle caused crises. The first question concerns stability. Why was Mexico so stable in the 1950s and 1960s? A principle of social science requires that an explanation of why something ...

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Chapter 6. The Unwritten Rules

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pp. 117-128

Mexican presidents wielded the authority to avert economic crisis in the 1950s and 1960s. But what gave them that authority in those decades, and why did they lose it in subsequent decades? To put it another way, aside from powers that the president had throughout the era of the PRI—aside from the legacy of concentrated rule under the Aztecs and ...

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Chapter 7. The End of Stability

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pp. 129-156

The unwritten rules established a role for what, in the United States, is called the loyal opposition. But unlike in the United States, this role was not woven into a fabric of public and legally enforceable institutions. Observance of the rules depended crucially on the president of Mexico, the ruler atop the Aztec pyramid of power. Luis Echeverr

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Chapter 8. Struggle

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pp. 157-180

Increasingly after 1970, elite struggle permeated the heart of the Mexican state. Policy disputes merged into conflicts over political succession, succession conflicts grew more virulent, and—the defining characteristic of struggle—grupos came to fear for their very political survival. Luis Echeverría initially undermined the cooperative system and provoked ...

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Chapter 9. Schism

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pp. 181-203

Much as Jos

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Chapter 10. The Inevitability of Elite Politics

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pp. 204-226

The distinguished Argentine political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell noted in 2001 that among the fifteen Latin American scholars writing on politics whom he considered most influential, only two had degrees in political science and one in history; the rest were sociologists. And the founders of modern Latin American social science a generation earlier ...

Appendix A. Mexican Fiscal Data

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pp. 227-228

Appendix B. The Pre-Electoral Spending Cycle

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pp. 229-232


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pp. 233-264

interview list

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pp. 265-268


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pp. 269-282


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pp. 283-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780292794474
E-ISBN-10: 0292794479
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292717572
Print-ISBN-10: 0292717571

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 26 b&w photos, 3 charts, 10 tables
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexico -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
  • Mexico -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Partido Revolucionario Institucional -- History -- 20th century.
  • Elite (Social sciences) -- Mexico -- History -- 20th century.
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