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  • Mexico in Transition: Neoliberal Globalism, the State and Civil Society
  • Frances Rothstein
Mexico in Transition: Neoliberal Globalism, the State and Civil Society. Edited by Gerardo Otero. London: Zed Books, 2004. Pp. x, 274. Tables. Figures. Notes. Index. $75.00 cloth; $25.00 paper.

This valuable collection of articles convincingly shows what Mexico's neoliberal policies have accomplished and what they have cost most Mexicans. For Mexican specialists, especially those who focus on political economy, the occasional repetitive discussions of the general outlines and effects of neoliberalism will be familiar. Many of the specifics, however, are new. For non-Mexicanists who are interested in neoliberalism, this is a very good place to begin. The articles are generally well written and clear, and the bibliography provides useful places to go for additional sources, often books and/or articles by the same authors that offer more detailed analyses.

Most of the articles delve into particular sectors or segments of contemporary Mexico, such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, conservation, or migrants. The focus on particular sectors accounts for the strength of most of the articles; they do not try to cover too much. Only one article, by covering too much, leaves important questions unanswered. In an effort to argue against what he seems to consider a common primordialist approach in anthropology that gives identity an unchanging fixity, Jeffrey Cohen discusses contemporary migration, agriculture, weaving, basketball teams, patterns of cooperation, pre-revolutionary mining, and fighting during the revolution. But, among other questions, the reader is left to wonder whether the described patterns of cooperation cross divisions in landownership. Also of interest, given the overall thrust of the collection regarding the impact of neoliberalism, is the fact that the people in the community he studied weave on a putting-out system involving exporters. Who are the intermediaries in this system? Where are they from?

The rest of the articles form a cohesive collection showing who and how the benefits and costs of neoliberalism have been distributed. In an excellent discussion of migration, Delgado Wise describes how the state has moved from, following García y Griego, Wise calls a "no policy" approach to one of "open subordination" (pp. 147-8) to U.S. interests. He documents how the United States benefits both from the indirect export of Mexican labor via export manufacturing and also the direct export of Mexican labor via migration. Although it is not always clear where the statistics he relies upon come from, the numbers provided suggest significant patterns, such as the finding that as important as migrant remittances have become, in the year 2000 they actually represented only a small part (US$6.57 billion) of the $87 billion earned by Mexican-born emigrants.

Individually and together the articles also provide new evidence in the current debate over the significance of the nation-state in a globalized world. Explicitly or implicitly, most of the articles criticize the view that sees the nation-state as losing its importance. Several of these authors (Armando Bartra on international traders and the small capitalized rural sector as opposed to peasants, Maria Elena Martínez Torres on large as opposed to small avocado growers, and Humberto González on changed legal frameworks geared toward attracting private domestic and foreign [End Page 689] investment capital) show how the state, rather than weakening, has simply changed who benefits from official policies.

Another theme addressed throughout the collection is how ordinary Mexicans are adapting to neoliberalism, especially how they have created new alternatives to corporatist state institutions and services of the past. Martínez Torres, for example, shows how, with the privatization of the Mexican Institute of Coffee and the loss of state support, some small and vulnerable coffee producers have developed new organizations and markets such as organic cooperatives. Similarly, González describes how diverse debtors came together in the El Barzón movement and used both the legal and political systems in their struggle against the banks.

The strengths of the collection outweigh certain weaknesses. Rural issues predominate; only three of the fourteen chapters (Enrique de la Garza Toledo on unions, Enrique Dussel Peters on wages and productivity, and Delgado Wise on trade) focus on manufacturing. There...


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