Mexico’s presidential elections last July, one of the truly big news stories of the decade, caught many, including its citizens, by surprise.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, otherwise known as the PRI, which had dominated Mexican politics for 60 years through its seemingly boundless ability to intimidate, co-opt or bribe, had run out of options. Not even the PRI’s perennial electoral fraud made a difference.
Carlos Salinas de Gotari won the presidency with the smallest majority in PRI history while the opposition parties won half of the seats in Mexico’s Congress.
When Salinas assumes power next month, one of Latin America’s most stable governments will have to choose between the dialogue of true multiparty democracy or deepening repression. But where and how did the PRI crisis begin?
Luckily, “Mexico,” a three-part series that begins tonight on PBS, confronts these questions with a patient intelligence that resists the U.S. electronic media’s habitual myopic pragmatism and distrust of history. It airs at 8 p.m. on Channel 50, and at 9 p.m. on Channels 28, 15 and 24.
The first one-hour episode, “Revolution: 1910-1940,” serves up a collage of U.S. and Mexican newsreel footage and still photos that has to be the most comprehensive yet assembled.
But “Mexico’s” real coup is in its writing and editing. Producers Peter Cook, Austin Hoyt and Huston Simmons disentangle this century’s first peasant revolution (Mexican Revolution of 1910) by carefully selecting from a myriad of historical characters, battles and intrigues the events that most illustrate the creation of Mexico’s one-party state.
The second episode, “From Boom to Bust: 1940-1982,” airing next Wednesday, documents the consolidation of the PRI and Mexico’s economic rise and fall. The last episode, “End of an Era: 1982-88" (Nov. 30) focuses on the economic and telluric disasters that opened the way for the emergence of the nation’s first effective political opposition.
Not once does the series rely on U.S. diplomats or observers. Mexicans, including former presidents, government ministers, historians, intellectuals and peasants, tell their own stories, interpret their own history. The effect is refreshing.
Instead of letting the Reagan Administration’s anti-communist agenda obfuscate another aspect of Latin America’s reality, we get a penetrating yet empathic look into a uniquely Mexican political institution in crisis.