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  • Ensayos de Historia Política de Colombia, siglos XIX y XX
  • Pablo Piccato
Ensayos de Historia Política de Colombia, siglos XIX y XX. By David Bushnell. Medellín: La Carreta Editores, 2006. Pp. 195. Illustrations. Notes.

Elisa Servín has managed to go beyond the small format of the introductory series coordinated by Clara García Ayluardo and write a very suggestive synthesis of electoral oppositions in twentieth century Mexico. As Servín notes, narratives of the twentieth century have been dominated by state-centered perspectives and, for the latter half, by political science or testimonial accounts. Servín builds a clear account of the multiple attempts, from left and right, to challenge a regime that emerged from armed revolution. This adds up to a basic genealogy of the diverse movements, most of them democratic and all of them eventually institutionalized, that lead to the final defeat of the old PRI machine in 2000.

Rather than privileging one vector (Catholic resistance, labor organizing, peasant resistance, leftist activism), the book follows ideologically variegated challenges to the regime's electoral hegemony. Although the exclusion of those who chose the vía armada is justified by space constraints, it poses a problem, since many such movements, like the 1910 revolution itself, stemmed from failed electoral attempts, or, like the Cristeros, lead to or influenced electoral resistance. Servín stresses the role of the press, academics and "intellectuals," further suggesting that the lines separating electoral opposition from other forms of struggle are permeable. She proposes the advance toward "political modernity" (p. 13) and expanded political rights as an appropriate teleology to understand contemporary Mexican politics. Yet teleology it is, and might prove less appropriate when trying to understand equally recurring movements, such as the recent protests at Oaxaca, Atenco and Chiapas, in which actors, on both sides, seem to place little value on institutions. Servín admits that the book focuses on the competition for the presidency, thus leaving aside regional diversity.

The volume covers from the fall of the Porfiriato to the 2000 elections, although the basic patterns of political opposition in the twentieth century are to be found in [End Page 685] the República Restaurada (1867-1876), rather than in the late liberal mobilization against Díaz. Free speech, fair justice and electoral transparency had deep roots as opposition themes. The book follows these threads through the historiography, managing to establish the basic narrative while keeping a critical eye on multiple interpretive schools. The 1920s emerge as a moment of great political fluidity, with continuing military rebellions, a complex system of regional and sectoral parties, and an active Congress that besieged the Sonorenses with many ideological, personal and local agendas. Servín rightly suggest that the period could provide a better historical analogy for our present than the heroic opposition against Díaz. Beyond moments of contingent alliance like the understudied candidacy of Vasconcelos, the opposition often saw public opinion as a more sensible path to achieve change. That was the choice by the end of Lázaro Cárdenas's presidency: to defend the alleged victory of Juan Andrew Almazán or to build an ideological counterbalance against official radicalism. The second approach was clearly more productive for Catholics and business interests, as reflected in the subsequent years of the PAN's "loyal opposition" and its eventual triumph.

Between the 1950s and 1980s the PRI's electoral hegemony has not inspired much historical research. This book points to several avenues to fill that gap; one involves looking at the terrains of municipal elections and armed resistance as often intersecting paths of political competition that never quite fit in the pax priísta. Leftist (and, we might add, conservative) activism in the 1960s forced the regime to transfer opposition from the streets to the polls. A narrow focus on human rights abuse under Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and Luis Echeverría, we might add, neglects the long-term consequences of that decision.

Servín's book provides an excellent tool to navigate contemporary changes with a historical compass. Although the extensive bibliography might be less valuable for undergraduate students in the United States the text itself could be...


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