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Opening Mexico
Cover of Opening Mexico
Opening Mexico
The Making of a Democracy
Borrow Borrow

The Story of Mexico's political rebirth, by two pulitzer prize-winning reporters

Opening Mexico is a narrative history of the citizens' movement which dismantled the kleptocratic one-party state that dominated Mexico in the twentieth century, and replaced it with a lively democracy. Told through the stories of Mexicans who helped make the transformation, the book gives new and gripping behind-the-scenes accounts of major episodes in Mexico's recent politics.

Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, led by presidents who ruled like Mesoamerican monarchs, came to be called "the perfect dictatorship." But a 1968 massacre of student protesters by government snipers ignited the desire for democratic change in a generation of Mexicans. Opening Mexico recounts the democratic revolution that unfolded over the following three decades. It portrays clean-vote crusaders, labor organizers, human rights monitors, investigative journalists, Indian guerrillas, and dissident political leaders, such as President Ernesto Zedillo-Mexico's Gorbachev. It traces the rise of Vicente Fox, who toppled the authoritarian system in a peaceful election in July 2000.

Opening Mexico dramatizes how Mexican politics works in smoke-filled rooms, and profiles many leaders of the country's elite. It is the best book to date about the modern history of the United States' southern neighbor-and is a tale rich in implications for the spread of democracy worldwide.

The Story of Mexico's political rebirth, by two pulitzer prize-winning reporters

Opening Mexico is a narrative history of the citizens' movement which dismantled the kleptocratic one-party state that dominated Mexico in the twentieth century, and replaced it with a lively democracy. Told through the stories of Mexicans who helped make the transformation, the book gives new and gripping behind-the-scenes accounts of major episodes in Mexico's recent politics.

Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, led by presidents who ruled like Mesoamerican monarchs, came to be called "the perfect dictatorship." But a 1968 massacre of student protesters by government snipers ignited the desire for democratic change in a generation of Mexicans. Opening Mexico recounts the democratic revolution that unfolded over the following three decades. It portrays clean-vote crusaders, labor organizers, human rights monitors, investigative journalists, Indian guerrillas, and dissident political leaders, such as President Ernesto Zedillo-Mexico's Gorbachev. It traces the rise of Vicente Fox, who toppled the authoritarian system in a peaceful election in July 2000.

Opening Mexico dramatizes how Mexican politics works in smoke-filled rooms, and profiles many leaders of the country's elite. It is the best book to date about the modern history of the United States' southern neighbor-and is a tale rich in implications for the spread of democracy worldwide.

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  • Copyright © 2004 by Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon

    Opening Mexico

    1

    The Day of the Change

    No one in the Garza family got any decent sleep the night before México's presidential election on July 2, 2000.

    In México City, Conchalupe Garza managed to doze off now and then, but her racing mind kept waking her up in the predawn darkness with anxious questions. "Why can't this country change?" she asked herself. "Why shouldn't it change? Why can't the change happen now, today? If it doesn't happen today, how will we ever work up the energy to try for it yet again?"

    She had volunteered to be a poll watcher, and she lay in bed making plans for the task. She would wear sneakers and take extra clothes, she decided, because she would probably be up throughout the night dashing from one voting station to another, trying to prevent the party in power—the party that had been in power for all four decades of her life, and much longer—from fiddling with the ballot count and making off once again with the election.

    In Monterrey, the business capital that sits amid gray deserts in northern México, Conchalupe's seventy-three-year-old mother and her sister Beatriz slept equally fitfully. A fervent Catholic, Beatriz rose at dawn and set up a candle "the size of a house," as she described it, on an improvised altar in the living room, beginning hours of prayer for the balloting to bring the peaceful and orderly—but definitive—downfall of the ruling regime.

    Conchalupe and her family were members of an opposition group that had worked for generations to defeat the governing party known as the PRI—from the initials of its name in Spanish, Partido RevolucionarioInstitucional—and the monolithic authoritarian regime it controlled. They were motivated in part by religion: the PRI was the modern standard-bearer for a tradition, dating back more than a century, of antagonism between the secular Mexican state and the Roman Catholic Church. But the Garza family's cause went well beyond their faith. In the 1930s Conchalupe's grandfather had helped to form the Partido Acción Nacional, the National Action Party, known as the PAN, an acronym that means "bread" in Spanish. Its goal was to give Catholics a moderate voice to challenge the ruling system, and to unite them with free-market entrepreneurs who resented the PRI government's domination of the economy. In 1946 Antonio L. Rodríguez, her grandfather, had held one of the first four seats won by the opposition in the federal Congress, where every seat had been controlled by the ruling party since its founding in 1929. He had run at a time when the PRI's hegemony was so seamless and overarching that many Mexicans thought only madmen and masochists would stand against it in an election.

    Now, half a century later, the fight that Conchalupe and her relatives were still waging was more than ever about freedom. A kinetic and garrulous middle-class woman with a head of busy curls, Conchalupe had devoted her adult life to sharpening the competition with the PRI for a share of government, in a crusade that was more for pluralism than for the conservative agenda of the PAN. Over the years, whenever there was an election, Conchalupe's staid family home in Monterrey would turn into a bustling forward base of operations for hundreds of volunteer PAN poll watchers.

    "We learned how to make five thousand sandwiches in one day," she said proudly, giving a precise measure of her effort.

    The PRI's monopoly extended down to the elections officials who presided over the voting stations in city precincts and farming villages throughout the country. Conchalupe knew from experience that one of the PRI's favorite...

About the Author-
  • Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon were The New York Times Mexico bureau chiefs from 1995 to 2000. Along with two other reporters, they won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for their coverage of Mexico's narcotics underworld.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 26, 2004
    Preston and Dillon, former Mexico bureau chiefs for the New York Times
    , combine personal experience and journalistic accounts in this thoughtful report on the trials of Mexico's turbulent first taste of democracy after decades of authoritarian rule. With grace and candor, the authors capture this transitional period, which has been characterized by a slow and tense crumbling of Mexico's main political party, the PRI (a victim of its own incompetence and hubris), and a rapid increase in civic fervor. This is a portrait of historical change of seismic proportion, told from individual perspectives, depicting an intriguing web of heroic Mexicans struggling to bring about cultural change while others tend toward corruption. As a result, this book is as bleak as it is insightful. Hopeful victories in this "imperfect democracy" are few and far between. The authors detail government negligence and deception during the devastating earthquake of 1985, cunning reporters and renowned intellectuals attempting to pierce the regime's stronghold on the media, and the ongoing low-intensity warfare against deeply divided indigenous communities in the southern state of Chiapas. Also featured here is the controversial investigation of Mexico's narcotics underworld that implicates two high-level PRI officials as "associates" of Mexico's most notorious drug trafficker, Carillo Fuentes. This type of coverage earned the authors strong criticism from the authorities in Mexico and a Pulitzer Prize—the latter well deserved. B&w photos.

  • Mack McLarty, former White House Chief of Staff and Special Envoy for the Americas
    "The emergence of a vibrant democracy in Mexico is one of the underappreciated stories of our day. Opening Mexico details the political and democratic forces that moved our southern neighbor in this new direction, to the point where Mexico is now helping to set the standard for Latin American nations on the global policy stage. This book is an important analysis for anyone serious about policy-making and international relations in Mexico and the Americas."
  • Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State "Opening Mexico tells the fascinating inside story of how Mexico became a multi-party democracy after seven decades of single-party rule. Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, two of America's finest investigative journalists, recount the events that transformed Mexican politics and strengthened democratic momentum at a crucial moment in the history of Latin America. Opening Mexico is indispensable reading for those seeking an understanding of contemporary Mexico and would be a valuable addition to the library of any student of how political power is used, abused or changed."
  • Jorge Castaneda, former Foreign Minister of Mexico "Julia and Sam have produced one of the most important books on Mexico since the publication of Alan Riding’s Distant Neighbors nearly twenty years ago. It is a clear reminder to U.S. policy makers of why America needs to remain engaged with the destiny of its Southern neighbor, and a superb introduction to Mexico for all those who simply want to get to know, and understand, a fascinating country."
  • Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, writer Independent politician and former Ambassador of Mexico to the United Nations "This fascinating book is not the expedition of curious analysts into the archives and clippings of a country at change; it is the effort of two journalists to give their own version and cast lights on the shadows of a country full of secrets, untold stories and hidden compartments."
  • Richard Feinberg, Director, APEC Study Center, University of California, San Diego "Opening Mexico takes us on a wonderfully humane and insightful journey, chock full of vividly portrayed villains and heroes, that brings to life Mexico's own troubled, triumphant journey toward a functioning democracy. Preston and Dillon introduce us to the worst and 0 best of humanity, locked in an historic struggle of entrenched privilege versus individual liberty. This book is a great read for all Americans who are curious about our awakening southern neighbor."
  • Shirley Christian, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, 1981
"Americans who think of Mexico as principally an illegal immigration problem will have their eyes opened--and their minds changed--by this story of the heroic struggle Mexicans waged for more than three decades to finally bring democracy to their beautiful, but wounded land. Opening Mexico recounts the repression, violence, corruption, and inertia inherent in nearly a century of one-party rule. These roadblocks on the path to free elections were gradually overcome by students, intellectuals, journalists, opposition politicians, and even a few working quietly from within the ruling clique. Their crusade culminated with the election of opposition leader Vicente Fox in July 2000, opening a promising new century for Mexico."
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The Making of a Democracy
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