The substantive arguments Casta-
ñeda uses to criticize Mexican society
disappear in his analysis of the Fox
views of themselves as well as their
ability to solve their problems.
For these reasons, Castañeda takes
a bleak view of Mexico’s future. “If the
national trait[...]implies anything, it
is that Mexican political culture, because of its deeply rooted rejection of
confrontation, competition, and controversy, remains ill-equipped for democracy,” he writes.
But this conclusion is unfair. The
political culture and national character cannot be held principally responsible for the breakdown of Mexican
democracy. There are other, equally
Despite its limitations and traumas,
Mexican society completed the task
that history demanded of it in ushering in an end to one-party rule.
The real problem is that the country’s political, economic and cultural
elites have failed repeatedly to exercise leadership. In 1968, the masses
took to the streets of the capital and
faced the bayonets in Tlatelolco Plaza
and elsewhere to demand basic freedoms. In 1985, civic organizations
and citizens stepped in and led the
recovery efforts when the government was paralyzed by an 8.1-magni-
tude earthquake that shook Mexico
City. But the enthusiasm for change
displayed on these and other occasions was squandered by the political leaders. Castañeda occasionally
notes the mediocrity of Mexican leaders, but he fails to give it the weight
that it deserves.
The fourth chapter, for example,
focuses on the reasons for the failure of democracy. But here, when
discussing the presidency of Vicente
Fox (2000–2006), Castañeda falls into
a linguistic vagueness that weakens
his analysis. “The crucial decision that
Mexico has not made, and essentially
for the types of cultural reasons we
have been arguing,” he writes, “lies
squarely in the refusal to truly consummate a break with the authoritarian past.” By holding the entire
country responsible, the book conveniently avoids assigning blame for
any missteps to particular individuals.
However, blame should be assigned.
In 2000, Mexican citizens challenged
the authoritarian machinery and responded to the call for tactical voting
to oust the Partido Revolucionario In-stitucional (PRI) from the presidency.
Fox, a member of the Partido Acción
Nacional (PAN), won the election;
but his campaign promises were
never fulfilled. Castañeda observes
that Fox’s inner circle was divided
between reformists and those who
preferred to negotiate pacts with the
old regime. In the end, the negotiators won “the new president’s favor”
and those who were for change—
including Castañeda—“lost, and [their]
defeat has persisted.” In other words,
Mexico did make the right decisions;
those who failed were the ones in
charge of carrying them out. Yet
Castañeda still blames Mexico in general—rather than the political elites—
for the lack of change.
administration. But in this reviewer’s
judgment, Fox was an irresponsible
and frivolous president who allied
himself with the old regime and per-mitted the concentration of political, economic and coercive power.
His failures are responsible for the
current crisis of representation in
Mexican politics, including the ongoing monopoly on political power
by a small clique of elites. Yet, even
without strong leadership, Mexicans
remain determined to shake off pessimism and passivity. People—despite
being ignored or closed off by the system—continue to call for the justice
denied them by the governing elites.
Yet Castañeda seems unable to resist the temptation to hold society
at large responsible for the failures
of the elites. For example, in discussing efforts to institute class action lawsuits, which provide a legal
channel for challenging the voracity
of monopolies and oligopolies, he attributes the attempt at legal reform
to “a group of legislators and legal ex-