Mexico is in an explosive transition

April 21, 1996|By GINGER THOMPSON | GINGER THOMPSON,SUN STAFF

"Bordering on Chaos: Guerrillas, Stockbrokers, Politicians and Mexico's Road to Prosperity," by Andres Oppenheimer. Little Brown and Co. 349 pages, $24.95.

Mexico remains so terribly misunderstood. Thanks to the likes of Ross Perot, most of America views its neighbor to the south as a dusty backwater where people only live in miserable poverty.

About the only time stories from Mexico make it onto the network news it is to show images of desperate people leaping over the barbed wire fences at the border to seek jobs in this country.

The images are not an exaggeration. The lives of most Mexicans are terribly depressing. Most do not go to school beyond third grade. They live in villages or rural slums with no clean water, no sewage systems and pitiful housing.

And it is true that each year hundreds of thousands of Mexicans enter the United States illegally because they cannot find jobs at home that pay enough to provide their families the most basic needs.

But Mexico is a country of two faces. The one that is rarely seen is marked by mansions and plush boardrooms where some of the world's wealthiest, most educated men, and very few women, make deals to keep themselves rich and in power. It is the face that reporter Andres Oppenheimer exposes in his new book, "Bordering on Chaos."

This analysis of recent events, written in concise newspaper style, may not be terribly revealing to those who have kept a close eye on press reports from Mexico over the last three years. But "Bordering on Chaos" will serve as an important, intriguing primer for those who are unfamiliar with the inner workings of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, the world's longest-ruling political party.

Mr. Oppenheimer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for stories that helped uncover the Iran-contra scandal, exposes in detail the corrupt attitudes and tactics of the Institutional Revolutionary Party; how it controls the media, controls elections and obstructs justice in favor of its friends.

And Mr. Oppenheimer's reporting gives readers a rare look at the men behind recent political and economic struggles that have shaken Mexico from its decades of stability. These struggles have sparked some of the most dramatic events in Mexican history.

Mr. Oppenheimer, a Miami Herald correspondent, also manages effectively to portray each of Mexico's recent crises as all related, spelling the first real trouble for Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party since it took control of the government in 1917.

No longer can Mexican presidents ask wealthy friends for multi-million-dollar campaign contributions without fear of criticism from the press. No longer can the party conduct fraudulent elections without scrutiny and effective protest of opposition leaders. No longer can chief politicians or their

brothers escape prosecution for corruption and murder.

And no longer can anyone say for sure what party will win Mexico's next presidential election.

Ginger Thompson has been reporting for The Sun for seven years. Between 1993 and 1996 she was the Latin American correspondent, where she conducted a 14-month investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency's dealings in Honduras. She currently writes about religion.

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