Neoliberalism, Grievances, and Democratization: An Exploration of the Role of Material Hardships in Shaping Mexicos Democratic Transition

Jon Shefner, Julie Stewart


This article explores the relationship between neoliberalism and democratization in Mexico. For decades the Mexican state maintained the one-party rule of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) through a complex arrangement involving corporatist and clientelist practices. The onset of neoliberalism including the 1982 peso crisis and the imposition of structural adjustment policies realigned state policies with the result that the Mexican state transformed from a populist provider for many Mexicans to the instrument of their severe hardships. The state did little to protect people from nation-wide declines in wages and increases in unemployment, while withdrawing a range of subsidies necessary for daily survival. The size, scope and density of the resulting hardships, in turn, united a multi-class coalition that for the first time was able to work together to demand political change. Multiple demands emerged, corresponding to different sectors of society and different hardships, but in the end the demand for democracy became the unifying strategy. A decade after the end of one-party rule in Mexico, we can evaluate how hardships united people to demand change, even as that change has been more procedural than substantive.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Jon Shefner, Julie Stewart

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