- An Eternal Struggle: How the National Action Party Transformed Mexican Politics
Like any book written on the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) since 2000, Ard begins (and ends) this study by evoking images of the presidential victory of Vicente Fox. The PAN victory is widely recognized as an important watershed in modern Mexican history, although many treatments of the period from 2000 to the present have been either journalistic or polemical in substance. Since the colonial period, the cleavage and sometimes convergence between the interests of the Church and the ruling elite has been a contentious issue. The mid-nineteenth century legal reforms of Benito Juárez marked out new lines of battle between the Church and liberal politicians. Specific prohibitions against Church participation in various forms of civic life, embodied in Articles 3 and 130 of the Constitution of 1917, gave rise to the Cristero War of the 1920s and the Sinarquista movement of the 1930s and 1940s. These militant responses to revolutionary reforms, described in the early chapters, are a useful counterpoint to the political strategy undertaken by the PAN since its foundation in 1939. [End Page 292]
Ard argues that the victory of the PAN marked "the end of a long conversion process, a reconciliation between Mexico's Catholic and Revolutionary political traditions, and the forging of a new national political consensus" (p. x). He emphasizes that the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) pursued "great party" goals centered mainly on the elimination of opposition and the monopolization of political authority. For its part, the PAN developed as a "system party" since it was mainly concerned with democratic forms and the long-term civic health of Mexican citizens, what PAN leader (and 1952 presidential candidate) Efraín González Luna called "political humanism" (p. 70). When the PAN was founded in the heat of the 1940 presidential succession, there was already a trio of powerful political forces coming out of the Right: Juan Andreu Almazán, Joaquín Amaro, and the Sinarquistas. The PAN was exceedingly wary of rushing into the business of fielding candidates, preferring instead to build Mexican democracy one heart at a time. This strategy, more than any other, accounted for its long years of electoral destitution.
Only in the 1970s did a new group of rising politicians begin to shift the core agenda of the PAN. These neopanistas, among them Manuel J. Clouthier (PAN presidential candidate in 1988) and Vicente Fox, argued that "the strategy should no longer be 'la brega de eternidad'—the eternal struggle—but a fight for power" (p. 100). The metamorphosis of the PAN from a "confessional" party or a "loyal opposition" to a modern political machine intent on winning elections was the crucial historical change for the party. Ard excels in describing this transition.
The vibrancy of this book derives from Ard's first-hand experience with Mexican elections in the 1990s and his interviews of prominent PAN officials during the period. Such sources also contribute to the key weakness of the study. Because Ard has focused his attention on the electoral successes of the PAN in the 1990s, his treatment of the earlier period relies too heavily on secondary materials. His analysis could have been deepened by the addition of archival sources from Mexico and the United States. Notable by its absence is any reference to the private, though accessible, archive of PAN founder Manuel Gómez Morín. Also missing is any direct consultation of consular reports, embassy memoranda or other records of the US Department of State.
Nevertheless, this book ably provides a cogent overview of the political and ideological history of the PAN, rivaling the more massive and historical, though still untranslated, work of Soledad Loaeza. Ard has written a very valuable study of the origins and long-term strategy of the PAN from its foundation in 1939, through its long decades in the wilderness, to the foxista triumph of 2000. It will be of great use to students of democratic transitions...