Mexico has undergone severe economic and political stress over the last 25 years. The economy has sprung forward and collapsed backward in conjunction with changes in the world petroleum market and international interest rates. Inflation has eroded the income of salary earners. Political repression, including the use of the army and fascist street thugs against students and other demonstrators, has been followed by tentative steps toward multiparty pluralism and tolerance. All of these forces have weakened the authority of the president.
This book focuses on the presidency of Luis Echeverría, the years 1970-1976. Echeverría came into office on the heels of the Díaz Ordaz disaster and failed to reverse the decline. After promising change, he reverted to violence to repress guerrilla groups and others suspected of terrorist activity. He did not widen the scope of political participation. He failed to rectify the maldistribution of income, proved unable to develop internal markets, and allowed the expatriation of profits by foreign concerns. Yet he attacked the beneficiaries of these contradictions in his public utterances. In doing so he managed to alienate almost everyone. However, the author softens his criticism by acknowledging that all of the problems preceded Echeverría and continued unresolved under the leadership of future presidents.
Samuel Schmidt demonstrates Echeverría’s failure to deliver a program consistent with his “anti-imperialist” and social democratic rhetoric. Yet he also uses the years of Echeverría’s regime to advantage in offering the reader useful insights on the Mexican political process. Before Díaz Ordaz, Schmidt argues, all Mexican presidents had backgrounds in popular politics; thereafter, they came from the bureaucracy. Despite the book’s title, the author does not really blame Echeverría for the long-term decline in the status of the office. He sees that decline in the context of a more complex process; but at the same time he is severely critical: “. . . because of personal flaws and the opposition of the bourgeoisie, [Echeverría] achieved only extended confrontation, destabilization of the economy, repressive pacification, and alienation of the regime’s allies in all sectors of society” (frontispiece).