Big Fox, Little Village

Big Fox, Little Village

Much ink has been spilled proclaiming the recent Mexican presidential elections epochal, monumental, even revolutionary. The election of Vicente Fox, the candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), ended seventy-one years of rule by the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI). No political party in the world had been in continuous power for so long. A façade of democracy scarcely masked its authoritarian rule. Still, until 1982, rapid if uneven economic growth and the adroitness of the PRI leadership bought political acquiescence. But the economic crisis of 1982 emboldened the media and the nascent political opposition. Media revelations of corruption at the highest levels of the PRI led to public outcry and further strengthened the opposition. Growing opposition strength encouraged even more investigative journalism. Opposition parties increasingly won municipal, state, and congressional elections, but in a country where el señor presidente is the dominant political force, the PRI held on during presidential elections. Many assumed that it would never surrender the presidency—and therefore assumed, too, that Mexico would never change.

The elections of July 2, 2000, brought a surprise. The PRI candidate lost. The winner was Vicente Fox, a six-foot-five-inch, cowboy-booted former executive of Coca-Cola, who stomped a plastic dinosaur during campaign appearances. Fox promised sweeping changes, “a new political future”—not a change of government, he said, but a regime change. The new regime is to be transparent, accountable, and responsive—“the new reality of power in Mexico.” Moreover, this profound “reform of the state, breaking paradigms,” will enable the Mexican government finally to tackle Mexico’s pressing problems of poverty, inequality, unemployment, ethnic discrimination, and environmental degradation.

In the small village of Taxco Viejo in the western state of Guerrero, however, Fox is ignored. No hope—or even interest—is vested in him. The two thousand residents won’t even give him a chance to deliver on his promises. Taxco Viejo is a Mexican “backwater,” far from the presidential palace. But most of Mexico, including many neighborhoods of Mexico City, is also a political backwater. Although it is risky to generalize from what Mexicans in one small village have to say, the conclusions of the residents of Taxco Viejo are haunting.

Taxco Viejo lies just off the national highway linking Cuernavaca to Acapulco. It is close to the city of Taxco. The land is rugged; the climate is dry. The village is spread out over a loose web of streets paved with irregular stones. The picturesque church, set on a hill, dates back some three hundred years and serves as the center of the village. There are a few small groceries and other stores selling one thing or another, as well as the Estetico Unisex “Dani” beauty salon. There are some announcements for concerts in neighboring Igu...