During the last third of the twentieth century, Mexico’s party dictatorship — briefly the world’s most enduring party-state after the collapse of the USSR — was rocked by a series of crises that eventually ended PRI dominance in 2000. The period began with the student protests preceding the 1968 Summer Olympics and the government massacre of several hundred demonstrators at Tlatelolco, a slaughter that greatly diminished the PRI’s legitimacy. Three years later, government-trained paramilitaries (halcones) killed nearly 50 student demonstrators at “the Corpus Cristi massacre,” undermining President Luis Echeverría’s attempts to win support from the Mexican Left.

In 1985, Mexico City’s massive earthquake demonstrated — much as Hurricane Katrina recently did on the U.S. Gulf Coast — the extent of the national government’s ineptitude. Yet, the earthquake subsequently strengthened Mexican civil society, as citizens’ groups stepped into the breach. Three years...

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