The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book Political Intelligence and the Creation of Modern Mexico, 1938–1954

Political Intelligence and the Creation of Modern Mexico, 1938–1954

Aaron W. Navarro
  • Copyright: 2010
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 320 pages
  • Illustrations: 20 b&w illustrations
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-03705-9
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-03706-6
“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.”
“This imaginative and provocative work explores Mexican politics historically through three influential elections—1940, 1946, and 1952—focusing on the importance of opposition leaders and politics while delving deep into the evolution of civil-military relations and the growth of political intelligence agencies. Navarro’s research is based on extensive original archival sources in Mexico, a noteworthy accomplishment given the difficulty of obtaining access to historical data about the military and the intelligence agencies. Indeed, no other researcher on Mexico has compiled such a record of this material. Navarro aptly uses these sources to offer significant, fresh arguments that contradict existing views and are essential for understanding the crucial development of civil-military relations influencing Mexican politics to this day.”
“Navarro provides both a history of the establishment and regularisation of the Mexican intelligence services and an account of the changes in the ways government intelligence officers viewed the political opposition. . . . At heart [Political Intelligence and the Creation of Modern Mexico] is an almanac of intelligence reports, expertly linked and analysed, which allow the reader insights into both specific events and broader themes. . . . This is a very useful book with much to recommend it to all with an interest in the post-Cardenas period. It gives an admirable account of the development of the PRI model and reiterates the exceptionalism of the Mexican case.”
“In this excellent and provocative book, the author offers new explanations for the consolidation of Mexico's political system following the Mexican Revolution. . . . [The book] breaks important new archival ground with Navarro's exhaustive research in the recently opened archive of the Mexican intelligence services and in his pairing of these sources with contemporaneous United States intelligence documents. Combined with a close reading of relevant secondary sources, this rich source base allows Navarro to provide new insights regarding events and figures that are well known within Mexican history, as well as to reveal many previously unknown facets of post-revolutionary politics.”
“Aaron Navarro's study of mid-20th century Mexican politics is welcome—not just as a significant contribution to the historiography of the post-revolutionary period, but also as an insightful account of the development of institutions that continue to play an important part in Mexico's national life.”

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 W. Navarro is Associate Professor of History at the University of North Texas.

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