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PRESERVING AN AUTHORITARIAN DEMOCRATIZATION: THE CASE OF MEXICO

A key feature of the prevailing modernization story is that democratization is an inevitable consequence of marketization. Yet, as this chapter has highlighted, the implications of neoliberalism are far from necessarily democratic, even institutionally, and are indeed often quite authoritarian. The case of the Singapore is a prime example of such non-democratic modernization and the capitalist fantasy of authoritarian development it draws its strength from. However, this repressive character of neoliberalism, and the affective discourses sustaining it, is also prevalent in states that have officially, and to some degree in practice, more substantially conjoined their marketization to political values of democratization. Mexico’s recent democratic reforms, inexorably linked ideologically with a neoliberal economic agenda, reveals this modern form of authoritarian democratization.

From Revolutionary Nationalism to the Promise of Democratization

There is an increasing acceptance that marketization and democratization are not inherent partners, as the above case of Singapore bears out. The examples of market despots and competitive authoritarians empirically put into question the triumphant belief that economic liberalization is the natural precursor to democratic liberalization. Yet relatively unchallenged is the durability of authoritarian capitalist governments, even when they do undergo ostensibly dramatic transformations toward liberal democracy. Such democratic repression obviously highlights the normative and practical limits of liberal democracy as a form of democratic governance. It also significantly reflects the underlying capitalist fantasies of authoritarian development driving such democratization.

The democratic transition of Mexico from a dominant-party state, ruled by the populist “Institutional Revolutionary Party” (Partido Revolucion- ario Institucional or PRI) exemplifies this trend of authoritarian democratization linked to present-day discourses of globalization.1

The PRI dominated Mexican politics for almost the entirety of the twentieth century. Arising victorious from the country’s civil war, which ended in 1920, it justified its rule on the back of a populist promise of economic justice and state-led modernization. For the next seven decades it used a mixture of hard and soft repression in order to maintain its monopoly on power. It stood as the primary force for guiding the country’s economic development - taking a leading role in infrastructure building, natural resource governance, guiding domestic financial institutions and managing employment relations. This authoritarian model for development - referred to as “stabilization development” - produced, at least initially, rather spectacular results, as the country saw growth rates of 6 percent annually from 1940 all the way to 1970 (Middlebrook, 2003; Philip, 1988).

This so-called “Mexican miracle” was preserved through the tightly controlled political hegemony of the PRI. Under the unifying power of the President, the party was able to dictate the country’s direction as well as manipulate its limited popular democracy, judicial system and military to its advantage (Araujo and Sirvent, 2005; Horcasitas, 1993). The PRI, moreover, used and strategically distributed Mexico’s vast natural resources to control local government and offset national challenges to its power. It also relied upon more traditional authoritarian methods including assassination, illegal imprisonment, torture and kidnapping alongside the tactical co-optation of resistance leaders (Montemayor, 2009; Hodges et al., 2002).

At the heart of the PRI’s political hegemony was a modernization fantasy of revolutionary nationalism. According to its basic manifesto:

The role that historically corresponds to the Institutional Revolutionary Party is to secure and protect the continuity of the revolutionary nationalist current in the exercise of State’s power through the cohesion and progress of the fundamental forces of the people. (PRI, 1979: 112-15)

Central to this affective ruling discourse was the ongoing promise of “national progress,” through which the party was able to unite the economically stratified and culturally diverse nation (Cordova, 1979). This political cohesion was particularly associated with its claim to represent a project “revolutionary nationalism” (Carmin and Meyer, 1998). It stated in its “Declaration of Principles” that “The Party assumes the revolutionary nationalism as the most consistent and conducive path to ... get full access to the broad masses of people to enjoy the goods that our society produces” (PRI, 1979: 115). The utopian dimension of this discourse was captured in the PRI’s vision of a new society where:

unemployment must be eradicated, all work must be fair and timely paid; the land must - without exception whatsoever - belong to those who work it, social security should be extended quantitatively and qualitatively ... education and training, hygiene and welfare, must be fully and effectively guaranteed. (PRI, 1979: 178)

Politically, all those who opposed their rule were labeled as “enemies” of progress. Internationally they positioned themselves as the protector of Mexican development. In 1976, for instance, their leader publicly extolled that “we are not wealthy, we are not strong militarily and materially we are not great. However, we could be, because the resources of our territory are vast and because the possibilities of our people are endless.” Their failure to do so would be catastrophic, resulting in the country’s wholesale foreign exploitation. This sense of fear drove the President’s authoritarian discourse: “[we must] carry out the development of [Mexican] man and natural resources, [we must] return investment into the country, [and] stop making other countries rich at the expense of ours” (PRI, 1979: 129).

Nevertheless, the popular appeal of “revolutionary nationalism” waned due to the economic crisis that hit the country at the end of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The causes of this long-term recession were several, including governmental corruption and inefficiency as well as a drop in international oil prices (Cansino, 2000). In order to address these issues, the PRI drastically departed from its previous “socialist” politics and economics in favor of neoliberal measures such as wage freezes, a reduced social safety net, decreased union power and the privatization of certain state agencies in line with IMF and World Bank structural adjustment plans (Romero, 2003).

The cracks in the PRI’s power would only widen as the decade wore on. The former attractiveness of authoritarian modernization and its fantasy of “revolutionary nationalism” now appeared progressively hollow. In its place rose greater demands for democracy and a new narrative of national progress prioritizing democratization. Nevertheless, this desire for democracy would soon become incorporated within a repressive authoritarian discourse of neoliberal democracy.

 
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