Political Intelligence and the Creation of Modern Mexico, 19381954

By (author) Aaron W. Navarro

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 November 2012

Length of book:

320 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271037066

Mexican politics in the twentieth century was dominated by two complementary paradigms: the rhetoric of the Mexican Revolution and the existence of an “official” party. The Mexican Revolution has enjoyed a long and voluminous historiography; the “official” party has not. While the importance of the Revolution as a historical period is self-evident, the development of a party based on the political aspirations of the surviving revolutionary elites has not generally sparked as much historical interest. This book traces the path of the party, founded as the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR), through its reformation as the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana (PRM) in 1938 and then as the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in 1946, which finally fell from power in 2000. Aaron Navarro shows how the transformation of the PRM into the PRI, the removal of the military from electoral politics, the resettlement of younger officers in the intelligence services, and the inculcation of a new discipline among political elites all produced the conditions that allowed for the dominance of a single-party structure for decades.

“Aaron Navarro’s excellent book should transform our understanding of how Mexican politics developed into the regime Mexico endured from World War II into the 1980s. For decades misconstrued by political scientists as well as the media, right, left, and center, this political system was not, Navarro shows, an extrapolation from the country’s revolutionary past or an old party’s perpetual rule through a new era, much less (as a Peruvian novelist once called it) ‘the perfect dictatorship.’ It was improvised, contrived, and continually reformed between 1938 and 1954 for specific reasons, mainly to prevent violent uproars over presidential elections in a very dangerous period (1940, 1946, and 1952). The regime, in consequence, was a machine intended primarily to keep national order in a still deeply divided country during World War II and the cold war. Its public head, the president, changed via internally negotiated elections every six years. Its public front was the seemingly stable Mexican state. Its public electoral agency, the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI), organized in 1945–46, gained all of the fame, or infamy.

“Navarro’s history gives an often amazing account of a key part of the machine, its presidential bureau of investigation, which served the chief executive in turn as his center for national political intelligence. After a CIA-advised reorganization in 1947, ‘the bureau of federal security’ allowed increasingly centralized management (though often ugly and not always successful) of every mandated election in the country.

“This study is the first incisive explanation of a highly critical factor in the making of modern Mexico—the making of its terrifically violent politics into ‘the post-revolutionary state.’ Richly informed by massive original research in newly opened Mexican public and private archives (among them the tremendous federal investigative files), drawing deep on U.S. State and several other department files, clear and cogent in its argument, it opens the way for the first historically serious explorations of political struggle in that now old regime—before its collapse in the 1990s.”

—John Womack Jr., Robert Woods Bliss Professor Emeritus of Latin American History and Economics, Harvard University