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Aug 21, 2009, 7:32 AM

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What to Read on Mexican Politics

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Interesting list from the Council on Foreign Relations:
What to Read on Mexican Politics
Copyright © 2002-2009 by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.
Shannon O'Neil
SHANNON O'NEIL is Douglas Dillon Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of the CFR task force on U.S.-Latin American relations.

Mexico's rise on the American foreign policy agenda should not come as a surprise. Over the last generation, deepening business, personal, cultural, and community relations have drawn the two countries closer together. Trade between them has tripled, with Mexico becoming the United States' third-largest commercial partner. Flows of people, always part of the bilateral relationship, skyrocketed: over four million Mexican citizens have headed north in the last decade, while over a million U.S. citizens have migrated south, forming the largest nonmilitary community of American expatriates in the world. At the start of the twenty-first century, Mexico is still forging its political, economic, and social identity. It has undergone a true democratic transformation, and its three political parties now compete in clean and transparent elections. But it remains unclear whether Mexico will follow a path of growth, stability, and market-based democracy or one of instability, corruption, and crime. What is certain is that understanding Mexico -- where it came from, how it got there, and where it might be headed -- is vital to U.S. interests.
Politics in Mexico: The Democratic Consolidation. By Roderic Ai Camp. Oxford University Press, 2006.

In this book, now in its fifth edition, Roderic Ai Camp, one of the preeminent scholars of Mexican politics, deftly guides readers through more than 200 years of political evolution in Mexico, analyzing the events and concerns that created the Mexican state one sees today and exploring both the continuities and changes in that state's relationship with societal organizations and interests. Camp focuses on Mexico's extended transition to democracy, including reforms to the electoral process, the expansion of political participation, and the subsequent shifts in power among the various branches of government. Those interested in delving deeper can consult Camp's specialized works on many of the themes presented, such as the recruitment of political leadership and popular political attitudes. But Politics in Mexico, drawing on decades of experience and innovative research, provides a comprehensive overview of the main issues and forces affecting the country today.
Mexico: Biography of Power. By Enrique Krauze. HarperCollins, 1997.

This exhaustive history, written by one of Mexico's best-known intellectuals, chronicles nearly two centuries of Mexican politics, from independence to the early 1990s. After identifying major themes underlying the country's political and social identity -- its colonial legacy, its mestizo population, and the early power of the church -- Enrique Krauze turns to a leader-driven historical narrative, examining the lives of Mexico's various strongmen and presidents, who, from the battlefield to the executive office, shaped Mexico's political development. This personalized dynamic has faded with democratization, but the memory and vestiges of it remain relevant in Mexican politics today.
Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy. By Julia Preston and Sam Dillon. Macmillan, 2005.

Written by Julia Preston and Sam Dillon, the New York Times correspondents covering Mexico in the late 1990s, this readable narrative provides a thoughtful analysis of the country's democratic opening. Spanning the period from the devastating 1985 earthquake in Mexico City to the 2000 presidential elections, the authors investigate the economic changes, security threats, and political intrigue crucial to understanding the shifts that occurred in Mexican politics. The book explores the many pressures on the old one-party PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) system, the individuals and organizations that pushed for change, and the events leading up to democracy's final breakthrough: the election of the opposition PAN (National Action Party) presidential candidate Vicente Fox.
First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the Twenty-First Century. By David Lida. Riverhead, 2008.

Spanning 570 square miles and home to more than 20 million people, Mexico City is the largest metropolis in the Western Hemisphere. Even as federalism has decentralized power to Mexico's states, the capital remains the political, cultural, and economic center of the nation. In this journalistic account, David Lida offers many telling vignettes that capture politics, culture, and life in el D.F., the federal district. He lays out the intricacies of Mexico's economic inequalities, its sex and age discrimination, its traffic jams, and its deep-seated corruption. But he also illuminates the thriving high- and low-brow art scenes, from well-respected galleries and theaters to lucha libre (Mexico's version of professional wrestling). Lida explores the country's cabarets, cantinas, and street food, as well as the coexistence of traditional markets and Wal-Marts that make the city -- and Mexico -- what it is now.
The United States and Mexico: Between Partnership and Conflict. By Jorge I. Domínguez and Rafael Fernández de Castro. Routledge, 2001.

At the turn of the twentieth century, strongman Porfirio Díaz lamented, "Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to the United States." Some still share that view, but whatever the tone of bilateral relations, all would agree that Mexican politics cannot be understood in isolation from the United States. Expertly dissecting the complicated relationship of these two neighbors, Jorge Domínguez and Rafael Fernández de Castro analyze the impact of the end of the Cold War, internal changes within Mexico and the United States, and the creation and strengthening of bilateral and multilateral institutions over the last two decades. The authors show how these multiple factors led to closer ties in areas as diverse as security, the economy, and the border.
The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration, and Security Since 9/11. By Edward Alden. Harper, 2008.

Mexico's possible futures cannot be fully understood without a thorough comprehension of U.S. concerns over and approaches to border management. Edward Alden skillfully investigates the transformations of U.S. border policy since 9/11 -- in particular, the rise of immigration enforcement as the predominant means of protecting the United States against further terrorist attacks. This shift has had strong repercussions for Mexico, because of the 2,000-mile-long border it shares with the United States, its estimated ten million citizens living in El Norte, and the deep economic and social links between many U.S. and Mexican communities. It also has had significant consequences for policymakers trying to develop more effective bilateral relations, as this mindset influences approaches to issues of organized crime, trade and economic development, and the health and safety of populations on both sides of the border.
Copyright © 2002-2009 by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.


Aug 21, 2009, 8:05 AM

Post #2 of 5 (3385 views)


Re: [gpkisner] What to Read on Mexican Politics

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I would add another title to your list:

The Life and Times of Mexico, by Earl Shorris.

From Publisher's Weekly: This threatens to be one more of those hefty tomes that Mexico has a way of inspiring. But fear not: this 3,000-year history not only distinguishes itself in a field of worthy contenders but does so with flair and insight. An essayist, novelist (Under the Fifth Sun), sociologist (Latinos: A Biography of the People) and National Humanities Medal recipient, Shorris employs his Renaissance man-of-letters credentials to great effect here. Eschewing a more traditional political point of entry to the U.S.'s southern neighbor, he structures a series of narratives, vignettes and analysis around the Aztec concepts of head, heart and liver. Tonalli, the center of vital power, is the section on history and philosophy. Teyolia, the soul located in the heart, treats art and literature, family and essential character. Ihiyotl, located in the liver, is the center of survival and covers education, economics, politics, corruption and race. Shorris closes with a look to the future and two oral histories, deliberately contrasting "other, far less edited" voices with his own. Though there are more than a few moments when Shorris's prose veers dangerously close to purple, the overall effect is a beautiful, passionate and powerful account of a nation that American readers can ill afford to ignore. 32 pages of illus., 3 maps not seen by PW.

From Booklist: With Hispanics now the largest minority group in the U.S., and the North American Free Trade Agreement becoming a dominant issue in this year's presidential election, the importance of the U.S. relationship with Mexico has increased faster than you can say "Viva Bush." Likewise, Mexico itself has transformed dramatically over the past century; once a rural land of farmers, it today tops 100 million people, three-fourths of whom live in cities. And now, says Shorris, this nation known for its "obsession with history" must tackle critical problems--reforming its political-party system, developing new industries, ensuring equality for its indigenous population--to move into the future. In this important, impassioned book, Shorris offers a sweeping look at the country that first entranced him as a child, tracing its history from 3,000 B.C.E., when hunter-gatherers domesticated corn and thus remade society, and delving into art, education, race, corruption, and philosophy. It's elegantly and simply written, and the author expertly uses the lives of everyday Mexicans to tell the story and draw in the reader. Andy Boynton

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2004. "A work of scope and profound insight into the divided soul of Mexico."--History Today The Life and Times of Mexico is a grand narrative driven by 3,000 years of history: the Indian world, the Spanish invasion, Independence, the 1910 Revolution, the tragic lives of workers in assembly plants along the border, and the experiences of millions of Mexicans who live in the United States. Mexico is seen here as if it were a person, but in the Aztec way; the mind, the heart, the winds of life; and on every page there are portraits and stories: artists, shamans, teachers, a young Maya political leader; the rich few and the many poor. Earl Shorris is ingenious at finding ways to tell this story: prostitutes in the Plaza Loreto launch the discussion of economics; we are taken inside two crucial elections as Mexico struggles toward democracy; we watch the creation of a popular "telenovela" and meet the country's greatest living intellectual. The result is a work of magnificent scope and profound insight into the divided soul of Mexico. 3 maps, 32 pages of illustrations.

jennifer rose

Aug 21, 2009, 8:26 AM

Post #3 of 5 (3376 views)


Re: [gpkisner] What to Read on Mexican Politics

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Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants by Jorge Castaneda.

In Ex Mex, former Mexican foreign minister and eminent scholar Jorge G. Castañeda draws on his wide-ranging experience to offer a "timely consideration" (Publishers Weekly) of the controversial and complex issues surrounding Mexican immigration to the United States. While examining the century-long historical background behind the labor exchange between the two countries, Castañeda describes just who makes up the newest generation of immigrants from Mexico, why they have chosen to live in the Unites States, where they work, and what they ultimately hope to achieve. As the public debate on immigration reform continues, Ex Mex is essential reading for all who want to make sense of the complex issue from the Mexican perspective.


Aug 21, 2009, 3:15 PM

Post #4 of 5 (3329 views)


Re: [gpkisner] What to Read on Mexican Politics

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Thanks for the list.
Here's a couple more to consider -- these are what I would call "light" reading -- that is, they include a fair amount of personal opinion/anecdote, and are not scholarly treatments.

1) Bordering on Chaos Guerrillas, Stockbrokers, Politicians, and Mexico's Road to Prosperity. By Andres Oppenheimer. Illustrated. 367 pp. New York: Little, Brown & Company. $25.95 (now available in paperback).
Published in 1996, this focuses on events between 1992-1995, but includes necessary background, particularly regarding the Salinas administration. It's particularly interesting to read in light of subsequent events.
From Publishers Weekly
Miami Herald Latin American correspondent Oppenheimer traveled all over Mexico between 1992 and 1995, and this crisply written, eye-opening report depicts a country in the throes of political turmoil, corruption, peasant rebellions and massive layoffs. The authors, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 as part of a team that uncovered the Iran-Contra scandal, scaled guerrilla-held mountains to interview self-styled Subcommander Marcos, the white, middle-class Marxist revolutionary who in 1994 led a Maya armed uprising in the southern state of Chiapas. Oppenheimer views this revolt as symptomatic of a country marked by vastly unequal distribution of wealth and wasteful public works projects that fail to address the real needs of the people. He offers disturbing, fresh slants on the ruling party's control of TV news, the booming cocaine trade of Mexico's drug mafias, the rise of government-backed monopolies in key industries and the recent political assassinations that have weakened the ruling elite's credibility. Despite this bleak picture, Oppenheimer suggests that Mexico is stumbling toward a modern democracy under its new, technocratic administrator president, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon. Photos. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --

2) The Bear and the Porcupine: the US and Mexico. By Jeffrey Davidow. Second Edition 2006.

From Publishers Weekly
In this vivid memoir, Davidow, U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 1998 to 2002, sheds light on the curious profession of diplomacy and enjoyably depicts how such work ranges from the fascinating to the foolish. Davidow reveals how, in the sensitive and often covert dealings of U.S.-Mexico relations, ambassadors must perform petty damage control while simultaneously tending to the more pressing issues of U.S. national security, most importantly the war on drugs. As he sees it, uninformed and intrusive American officials don't mix well with prickly Mexicans who seem convinced the White House spends much of its time plotting ways to undermine Mexico's sovereignty. The author's casual tone should not discourage the more academic reader; Davidow shares vital new insights in the growing debate over Mexican immigration. He also dishes valuable descriptions of the cast of political characters involved in U.S.-Mexican diplomacy, not to mention some good gossip. Davidow argues that no nation in the world affects the daily life of average Americans as much as Mexico, thus making relations with that country tremendously important. His many years of experience in the U.S. Foreign Service, his profound knowledge of Mexico and his affinity with that country's people and culture make his a valuable perspective, spiced with poignant humor and sharp criticism that will delight readers interested in what goes on behind closed doors in Washington and Mexico City. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Aug 22, 2009, 1:22 PM

Post #5 of 5 (3265 views)


Re: [gpkisner] What to Read on Mexican Politics

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And to understand Mexican Politics you must understand Mexican history. The easy way to do this is with Richard Grabman's new book, Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: A People's History of Mexico. And if you don't believe me, read James Tipton's review here on MexConnect -

Or you can read Alex Gesheva's review in the Guadalajara Reporter -
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