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Latin American Research Review 40.3 (2005) 429-442

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Post-Authoritarian Politics in Mexico:

Beyond 2000, Elections, and the Formal Political Arena

The University of Miami
Mexico's Mandarins: Crafting A Power Elite For The Twenty-First Century. By Roderic Ai Camp. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. 308. $21.95 paper.)
The Romance Of Democracy: Compliant Defiance In Contemporary Mexico. By Matthew C. Gutmann. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. 289. $49.95 cloth, $19.95 paper.)
Building The Fourth Estate: Democratization And The Rise Of A Free Press In Mexico. By Chappell Lawson. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. 287. $50.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.)
Women In Contemporary Mexican Politics. By Victoria E. Rodríguez. (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003. Pp. 322. $50.00 cloth, $22.95 paper.)

The central focus of scholarship on Mexican politics since 1980 has been the increasing competitiveness of elections, and, to a lesser degree, the corresponding decline of presidential power, transformation of political parties, and rise of regionalism and a more combative congress (Camp 2000, 412; 2003a, 431; 2003b, 195). The loss of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the 2000 presidential election certainly marks a watershed in the electoral arena and government. The opportunity to institutionalize democratic governmental relations, as, for example, with the implementation of a law guaranteeing public access to federal government information in 2003, is an important consequence of the alternation of presidential power.

Yet while the election of an opposition party candidate to the presidency may further alter the holdover culture and structures of Mexico's particular brand of authoritarian politics, it certainly has not transformed them. The authoritarian legacies of the PRI regime continue to set the broad institutional parameters within which a more democratic [End Page 429] Mexican political system must take root. Nor does the alternation of presidential power in 2000 ensure that the practice of democracy in Mexico will move beyond what Middlebrook refers to as "partyocracy," or rule by parties without the substantial participation of civil society or citizens (2001, 41), especially given voter alienation in the 2003 congressional elections and the temptation to seek votes through television ads alone (Moreno 2003; Trejo 2001; Villamil 2001, 55–65). Given Mexico's political traditions and the universalistic shortcomings of electoral democracy, we should diversify the focus of scholarship to assess the multiplicity of actors, who in their totality, determine the breadth of political representation and governmental accountability.

The works reviewed here help us begin to fulfill this task. All are in-depth, book-length studies that are the result of years of scholarly inquiry, and all add texture to work on Mexican politics by U.S. authors. Specifically, they assess a "power elite" across five institutional spheres that influences government policy and political culture; women in political parties, government, and NGOs on the national and state level; changes in the little-explored practices and political effects of the news media; and the ebb and flow of popular urban residents' participation in politics. The authors use a variety of methodologies and theoretical lenses, but all offer lessons about the prospects for broader representation and accountability in post-authoritarian Mexico. I address these lessons at the end of the essay. First, I review each work, discussing its research objectives, methods, some of its findings or arguments, and the broader questions it provokes.

The Power Elite

The capstone of three decades of work on Mexican elites, Mexico's Mandarins: Crafting a Power Elite for the Twenty-First Century traces Roderic Ai Camp's own research journey from the study of the elite in intellectual life, business, politics, the military, and the church (1985, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1997). For the first time, however, he compares recruitment, sources of socialization and values, and cohesion across the five elite spheres. He also provides comparisons to elites in other national settings. In doing so, Camp can address a series of questions. Who has access to decision-making in post-authoritarian Mexico? How do they attain...


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