Requiem for the Land By Pete A. Y. Gunter ico without interruption for 56 years. “The PRI,” Riding writes, “has won every election for President, senator and state governor since its formation in 1929 and has frequently resorted to fraud to avoid defeat in elections for the Chamber of Deputies and municipal mayoralities.” They have resolved the question of succession through a unique ritual nowhere better described than in Luis Spota’s Palabras rnayores by which the outgoing president designates his successor. The party’s power and political stability rest on the understanding that the President is all-powerful. In fact, “the President can enjoy absolute power as long as he does not wield it absolutely. . . . Rather, behind a monolithic facade, he must share power with the country’s key interest groups the bureaucracy, traditional politicos, the media, organized labor, the private sector, the army, the intellectual left and the Church.” Since 1968, when President Gustavo Diaz ordered brutal suppression of the student movement by his army, Mexican presidents have exercised enormous power, all at considerable cost. Confidence of various interest groups has been seriously undermined and, with it, trust in the president as a negotiator. The middle class is defecting to the more conservative Partido de Acci6n Nacional, and the government, we are told, can no longer afford to compete for their vote by the transfer of resources from “social welfare, rural development, and even industrialization to the maintenance of currency stability, consumer spending and urban improvement.” Nor can the government afford to be caught tampering with elections, a traditional electoral procedure, but one not executed nearly so well by today’s technocrats as by the regional political bosses who governed Mexico in the past. Obviously stolen elections, Riding warns as PRI and PAN square off in Piedras Negras are likely to result in violence. All of this at a time when a threat to the country’s central authority “could suggest the disintegration of the country as well as the system.” IS MEXICO, then, as many have argued, poised for revolution or at least radical reform? This is the conclusion toward which we are led. But Riding seems to muddle toward several incomplete conclusions. Yes, the system of government that has been an exemplar of stability in Latin America is close to disintegration. The economy must endure an IMF-imposed monetarist revolution, though growth is desperately needed. The army, by tradition loyal to the government, is in the midst of a crisis of identity as aging generals of the revolution are replaced by younger, better-educated officers. And eager PANistas stand poised to declare any close election a fraud. But wait, there are considerable augurs of stability,, we are told. Riding cites nationalism that is irrefutable because it is undeclared, hidden greatness that remains to be uncovered, and the strength of the Mexican character. Bewildered, but not convinced, we are assured: “What will survive is Mexico.” But Distant Neighbors is descriptive and not prognostic. And when it describes, it describes well. Riding’s description of the Mexican family is in itself a fine essay. His examination of Mexican culture, high and low, is full of fact and insight. Here he obviously has made the best of twelve years \(six WATCHING a bulldozer scrape off the last remnants of native East Texas forest, or driving across the well-cropped grasslands of the high plains, or pondering the sprawl of live oak and cedar across a hill THE EXPLORERS’ TEXAS: The Lands and Waters By Del Weniger Eakin Press, 1984, Austin 224 pp., $24.95. country plateau can turn out to be dangerous occupations: dangerous for one’s curiosity. Sooner or later the thought is bound to cross one’s mind: I wonder what this was like originally, before lumber companies and developers, roads and plows? One struggles to imagine some green, primitive Eden, rich with game, woods, clear waters and an occasional Noble Savage, living parsimoniously. Pete Gunter is a professor of philosophy at North Texas State University and author of a book on the Big Thicket. the best journalistic and literary circles in the capital. And the Mexico city to which he devotes one chapter remains a. fine and fascinating place, where the “worst of underdevelopment has combined with the worst of overdevelopment.” Nothing here is terribly new, but it is all here, remarkably current and finely written. Several chapters include textually redundant statements, but these serve as complete essays for those not inclined to read through 380 pages on a distant neighbor. Several years ago, a Mexican lawyer and socialist activist suggested that I read an author who might provide some insight into the country’s political and economic system. “Read Kafka,” he said, never cracking a smile. Probably not bad advice; to which I would add, read Riding. I hope that John Gavin has. El The trouble with this image is its vagueness. The different parts of Texas were always different; and, apart from the pictures of tall grass and clear water and herds of regnant, shootable game, we really do not know much about early Texas. Prior to 1860, the point at which Del Weniger concludes his researches, photographs are few; mapmakers were not biologists; sodbusters and cowboys did not keep diaries. Not suprisingly, authorities disagree. Practically the only way to find out about aboriginal Texas is the one pursued in The Explorers’ Texas: to search out the accounts of those early explorers who kept records, and, painstakingly, compare them with each other and, point by point, with the country they traversed. The end result should be a surprisingly plausible image world. It is important to point out at the beginning that this is no mere academic exercise. The animals and vegetation that exist in a region before the coming of “Civilized Man” are a good index of what is best suited to survive there. That is, they tell us what a region is “naturally,” what it will tend towards THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27
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