Book Launch--Opening Mexico: Does Democracy Matter? with co-authors Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon
On Thursday May 13, 2004, the Mexico Institute hosted a book launch of the newly released book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy. The former New York Times bureau chiefs in Mexico City from 1995-2000 argued that although the defeat of the long-governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000 was revolutionary, there were significant internal events taking place in Mexico that had been revolutionizing the country for years. They suggested that there book was a set of stories that weave together the events that marked the peaceful change from an authoritarian government to a democratic system.
According to Preston, Mexico never had a clearly unified democratic movement under a single leader and there was "no Nelson Mandela" to represent the citizenry; rather, there were a series of events that transformed the political process and culminated in the victory of President Vicente Fox. The book, therefore, tells the stories of unlikely heroes that were forced to operate under the one party system in order to fight for their rights and press for a more open society. Preston highlighted one chapter on the presidency of Carlos Salinas, which addresses his approach to governing by both centralizing political power and opening Mexico economically. Preston noted that the suspense and anticipation leading up to the 2000 election was evident in the number of news stories in the Times that were front-page news; however, now that Mexico has entered the new millennium with order and stability, few stories from there still make the headlines. She wrapped up by suggesting that it is in the U.S. economic national interest to promote stability and democracy in Mexico.
To highlight the democratic change in Mexico, Dillon compared the U.S. and Mexican elections of 2000 and pointed out the irony of the role reversal, in which Mexico's election came off peacefully in a country once marked by pervasive fraud, while in the United States the election had to be decided by the Supreme Court after weeks of uncertainty. While acknowledging that democracy has not solved all of Mexico's problems, it has decentralized power, opened the market, and increased transparency. Many changes still need to be made, and headlines bear witness to the ills of drug trafficking, judicial corruption, poverty, and congressional stalemate. He noted that Mexico could now claim a democratic electoral system but that the political culture was still stuck in an authoritarian era. Albeit slowly, Mexican public opinion has become more stable and citizens are making themselves heard by bringing key issues to the table such as foreign policy and immigration. At the end of the day, the democratic change that occurred in Mexico was the result of a collective society ready for that change. Unlike current attempts that the U.S. government has engaged in to export democracy to other countries, Mexico's democratic transition was homegrown.