The 1994 Zapatista uprising in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas was the culmination of centuries of repression and exploitation of the country’s indigenous minority at the hands of its Spanish and mestizo leaders and the landed elite. The Liberal Reform initiated in 1854, followed by the “modernizing” policies of President Porfirio Díaz (1877–1880; 1884–1911), and then the revolution that ousted him, would strengthen and institutionalize a new set of institutional frameworks, discourses, and practices that lasted through the 20th century. The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN) emerged from a history of complex and volatile relationships between indigenous peoples of the impoverished state and its economic and political elite, relationships that began a process of redefinition in the 1950s. Zapatismo is one of the expressions of indigenous and working-class struggles in this social and historical context. It can be distinguished from other rural and indigenous movements by its repudiation of the strategies of protest and negotiation within an institutional framework, its adoption of armed struggle, and its rejection of the conventional objectives of land and commercial agricultural production in favor of territorial autonomy and de facto self-government.
Roderic Ai Camp
Mexico’s democratic transition provides a revealing case study of a semi-authoritarian political model evolving incrementally into an electoral democracy over two decades. One of the special features of that transition was its slow progress compared to its peers in Latin America, especially given its proximity to the United States, the most influential democracy in the last half of the 20th century. The first attempt to introduce fair, competitive elections occurred under the leadership of Miguel de la Madrid in 1983, but he reversed direction when he was opposed by leading politicians from his own party. His successor, Carlos Salinas (1988–1994), chose to pursue economic liberalization, opening up Mexico to greater competition globally, and negotiating an agreement with Canada and the United States (North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA), while maintaining an authoritarian presidency. During this era, proactive actors that fomented significant political change came from numerous sources. The following were particularly noteworthy in explaining Mexico’s shift to a democratic model: dissident elites who pushed for democracy inside the dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); dissident elites who left PRI to form the most successful opposition parties in the 20th century, including the founding of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in 1989; social and civic movements originating from government incompetence in addressing the results of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, the widespread fraud during the 1988 presidential election, and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation uprising in 1994; the altered composition of political leadership from the establishment and the opposition characterized by stronger backgrounds in local, elective offices, party leadership, and nonpolitical careers; new electoral laws reinforcing independent decision-making regarding electoral practices and outcomes in the 1990s; and the introduction of new political actors supportive of democratic change, such as the Catholic Church.
Alejandro García Magos
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (b. 1953) is one of Mexico’s most influential politicians. He has been at the forefront of Mexican politics since 2000, having served as mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005 and making three runs for the presidency in 2006, 2012, and 2018. While his detractors consider him a radical leftist in the mold of Venezuela’s late Hugo Chávez, his supporters praise him as a man of the people who fights to bridge the gap between rich and poor. Political preferences aside, the ascent of López Obrador in Mexico needs to be understood first and foremost in the context of the country’s democratic transition. This was a protracted process that started in 1977 and concluded at some point between 1997 and 2000, right about when López arrived on the national political stage. The transition leveled the electoral arena and opened up opportunities for electoral competition that López has been able to capitalize on. Ironically, to this day he refuses to acknowledge Mexico as a full-fledged democracy.
Since the early 1960s, Mexican women writers have relentlessly fought to become recognized within a traditionally male-dominated literary canon.
In the 20th century, women’s writing began to flourish, in many cases emerging as a counternarrative to the patriarchal discourse that had dominated the literary scene for decades after the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). The work of women writers can be examined according to three different phases: from 1960 to the 1970s, 1980 to the 1990s, and 2000 to the present, and by highlighting in particular a group of women writers from the northern border region, who have faced additional obstacles in their path to becoming published writers. All in all, each of the writers discussed here contributes to a snapshot of the literature written by women from the 1960s to today. The chronological trajectory of their literary voices underscores Mexico’s rich cultural and historical past through the eyes and voices of those traditionally silenced and marginalized in the patriarchal and hierarchical spaces of power.
Joseph U. Lenti
For seventy-five years the Mexican government allocated private and public land to people who needed it—and lots of it. An average of 1.3 million hectares were redistributed annually from 1917 to 1992, for a total of nearly 1 million square kilometers, or, almost exactly half of the nation’s arable area. On the other hand, serious flaws in government policy, coupled with macroeconomic, demographic, and environmental phenomena, undermined the program and turned its signature component, the ejido, into a synonym for rural backwardness and poverty. Thus, in spite of the astonishing volume of redistributed land, many assert that revolutionary land reform in Mexico failed: that it did not permanently improve the lives of rural land recipients as much as convert them into clients of the government.
Throughout the 20th century, the Mexican government used road building to incorporate the country’s disparate regions within the national economy and to enhance the visibility of remote populations. Since Independence, one of Mexico’s most economically and politically marginal states has been Chiapas. Yet, road building and state building efforts here have been inconsistent and contested since the 1920s. As seen in the case of Chiapas, the Mexican government made efforts to use road building as a state building tool and the limits to such work. Road-building efforts in the periods of 1924–1940 and 1990–2015 embodied the specific political, economic, and social elements of the time, and shedding light on the uneven nature of state building during each period. Roads—one promise of the 1910 Revolution—were slow to arrive in Chiapas in the 1920s and 1930s as fighting waned, due to government neglect and to the influence of local elites who were skeptical of integration with the country. It was not until the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) that the Federal Government began to invest in road building in the state. Yet, such efforts were limited, and Chiapas remained economically and politically marginalized until the 1990s. Following the 1994 Zapatista uprising, the Federal Government began to invest in infrastructure development so as to facilitate economic expansion and ensure national security. Government officials felt that, by expanding the state’s agricultural export and tourism industries, they would be able to co-opt Zapatista sympathizers to work in support of the state’s vision for the country. In 2009 and again in 2014, the government began construction on the San Cristobal-Palenque Highway project, which was designed to achieve these goals. Nevertheless, both times the project faced strong opposition leading to its cancellation and demonstrating, again, the limits of state building efforts in Chiapas.
Javier Contreras Alcántara
During the 2012 presidential election in Mexico, a movement arose that broke with the existing framework of political mobilizations. What began as a protest to call into question the past of one of the candidates became, with the assertion of their status as university students, a student and social movement that urged a discussion on the nature of Mexico’s democracy. The movement, called #YoSoy132 (#IAm132), became active on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, uniting young citizens from a generation that was beginning to distance itself from politics. Finally, following a series of debates on the path the country should take and the presidential election, the movement did not strengthen, but instead left behind a generation of young politicized citizens who now adopted new forms of socialization and organization for political action, which applied to further mobilizations. Since then, Mexico witnessed the emergence of new political players which have lifted the unease felt by the current political class.