The pièce de résistance of this book is a comparative study of the changes at the municipal level in the state of Mexico between 1960 and 1990, with special reference to the effects of the municipal reform of the mid-1980s originated by President Miguel de la Madrid. The author has long experience as a geographer conducting research at the municipal level, and is a specialist in municipal management problems.

Around 1950, most municipalities in the state of Mexico were still rural, and lacked modern infrastructure, communications, and services. They were extremely dependent on federal and state government funding. Most decisions of importance for the municipios’ future development were made by national- or state-level institutions and councils.

By 1985, the state of Mexico was perhaps the region of Latin America most thoroughly affected by a rather savage process of urbanization, which had fully snowed under the municipios. The state had two full-scale metropolitan municipalities and a large number of suburban ones, showing considerable internal disparities between urban colonies and rural settlements. Half the municipalities displayed strong or even acute deficiencies in public, economic, and social services.

The De la Madrid reform intended to upgrade the status and capabilities of the municipio by transferring certain taxes to the municipalities, improving their capacity to generate their own fiscal resources, and giving them a more significant role in local territorial planning and resource management. For a provisional check of the possible results of the reform, the author selected metropolitan Ecatepec, suburban Chalco, and the rural municipalities Atlacomulco and Coatepec Harinas.

The results were rather mixed. It is true that government funding decreased and local fiscal income increased, even spectacularly in several of the municipalities. One of the most interesting points is the transition of municipal government from the traditional patronage-oriented or boss-dominated “gobierno de los amigos para los amigos” to more professional management. Many municipal governments were not up to the new standards, and first had to improve their planning and executive capabilities. On the other hand, the reform made the post of municipal president more attractive for professionals. Much seemed to depend on the type of new municipal president, that official’s ability to mobilize people for needed local initiatives and induce them to transfer their loyalties and energies to the municipal cause, a traditional Mexican cultural trait symbolized by the tequio.

The study ends with the early Salinas years, prudently concluding that the Mexican municipal reform, whatever its problems, might work under more prosperous conditions. But now one is tempted to ask what the future of a municipal reform will be if the whole political system is at a crossroads and the country is in its worst crisis in half a century.