Lorenzo Meyer
"The Consolidation of Mexico's New Regime:
The Beginning"

March 5, 2003

Lorenzo Meyer speaks at the Women's Faculty Club on the challenges facing the Fox government in Mexico. Among the challenges he identified in continuing Mexico's transition away from authoritarian rule are the growing divide between rich and poor, a persistent lack of respect for the rule of law, and the lack of economic growth recently.

Signs of Democracy: Mexico’s New Beginning
Daffodil Altan, Graduate School of Journalism

Lorenzo Meyer, one of Mexico’s most respected academics, spoke at UC Berkeley on March 5, 2003 on the consolidation of Mexican democracy. The talk was part of the U.S–Mexico Futures Forum, a series organized by the Center for Latin American Studies, which began in the fall of 2002. Meyer also taught a seminar at CLAS through late March entitled “The U.S. and Mexico: Conflicting Agendas: A View of the Present from a Historical Perspective.”

Meyer has made it his life’s work to bring history directly to the forefront of every discussion. “In Mexico everything is charged with history, everything, every discourse, from the left to the right, everything. It is a great political weapon because history has been continually redistributed among Mexicans by the conquerors of the moment.” One of the problems now, according to Meyer, is that “Fox is likeable, but he is extremely ignorant about the history of Mexico and its complexity.”

It is obvious from the way Meyer leans into his audience that he loves to tell a story. His English is musical, dissonant and even high pitched when he hits the irony in his stories. They are stories that touch, after all, on the marrow of Mexico’s history: its long and troubled road to democracy.

According to Meyer, the consolidation of democracy, symbolized by Vicente Fox’s election in 2000, is not, like in the United States, the result of an inevitable historical trend, but rather an attempt to overcome a tradition of authoritarianism inherited from the Conquest.

Until 2000, “Mexican political life has been the antithesis of democracy,” Meyer said. Even though democratic revolutions occurred at key points in Mexican history — the War of Independence and the Mexican Revolution, for example — they all ended in long-lasting authoritarian regimes. Today, however, Meyer believes that Mexican civil society is strong enough to support democracy, even in the midst of an economic crisis.

“You can smell it in Mexico City. There are many, many organizations — not very efficient ones,” he said tongue in cheek, “but there they are, it is a civil society. There is a free press, really, really a free press. The government cannot control the press. So a civil society that isn’t alive, say, in the Soviet Union, is very much alive in Mexico and this is an integral part of a democratic society,” he said.

Still, the difficulty in overcoming a tradition of authoritarianism inherited from the Conquest and the U.S.’s historically schizophrenic treatment of Mexico threaten to override the country’s promise for democracy.

“The year Fox came into power the Mexican economy just stopped because the U.S. economy started behaving peculiarly,” said Meyer. “We have not grown. How do we address the dilemma in Mexico that there is equality in political terms, but inequality in economic terms?”

Pointing to the fact that half the population is still considered poor, Meyer’s voice rises, “What is the good of a democracy if this is the situation?” The country, he said, is too caught up in solving its immediate problems to address larger social challenges. “Mexican democracy comes at a time when the market is in full force there. So those who do not have in Mexico cannot participate in the market. How, how do you go to the Zapatistas in the countryside and say to a little girl, ‘Here you go, enterprise.com’?”

Meyer’s obsession with history pushed him to be one of only two students out of 13 originally enrolled who completed their PhD’s in International Relations at the Colegio de Mexico in the late 1960’s. Meyer then spent three years earning a doctorate at the University of Chicago before returning to Mexico to teach.

A professor since 1970 in the International Studies Department at the Colegio de México in Mexico City, where he also directs the U.S.–Mexican Studies Program, Meyer has written eleven books on subjects ranging from internal Mexican politics during the 1920’s and 30’s to books about contemporary Mexico and the U.S.–Mexico relationship. He writes a weekly column for a national newspaper, La Reforma, and hosts a weekly show on public television about history.


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