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Jewish World Review July 5, 2000 /2 Tamuz, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Revolution in Mexico -- and it's the best kind -- THE PARTY OF THE REVOLUTION INSTITUTIONALIZED in Mexico has just met the real kind. It seems Mexicans had their own independence day Sunday -- at the polls. After the sort of one-party run that only Democrats in the Deep South once enjoyed, Mexico's ruling party, clique, gang and effective state has been thrown out in what may have been that country's first real election.


Mexico's promise has never been greater, its future brighter. Hope rises that at last the energies, resources and pride of a rich and magnificent land long fettered will now be unchained.

At last Mexico may take its rightful place as not only a good neighbor but a strong, self-respecting one. At last empty gestures and bought politics may give way to real pride -- the kind that flows from freedom. Benito Juarez's dream Mexico may actually take shape.

It is hard to underestimate the magnitude of the change that could await south of the border. The only immediate parallel that comes to mind is the peaceful transfer of power in Mexico's northern neighbor back in 1800, when Thomas Jefferson's Republicans ousted John Adams' Federalists.

The election of 1800 may have been not just the first peaceful, democratic transfer of power between two parties in this country, but in the world. By 1800, the federalists had held the White House only 12 years (if you count George Washington's not so partisan two terms) while the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution -- that comic-opera contradiction in terms -- has reigned for some 70. And it showed. Not just in the corruption, in the bribes and threats, the narco-politics and fixed elections and the general bite government took out of every Mexican's hide, but in the spirit of the country.

It is an awful thing to watch a proud people ridden by a corrupt government until corruption becomes institutionalized. (It is a spectacle not unknown in certain parts of this country.)

Now a new day dawns for all Mexico with the election of Vicente Fox as president. It has been dawning for some time in the northern, more industrialized stretches of the country, where Sr. Fox's Party of National Action already had won state and local elections. Those victories showed in the pride and prosperity of that part of the country.

The party on the left, also led by a leader of integrity and vision, captured the mayoralty of Mexico City three years ago. If the elections had been clean a decade earlier, its leader -- Cuauhtemoc Cardenas -- probably would have been elected president then. Instead, he now has been re-elected mayor of Mexico City -- a powerful position and almost impossible job.

For this time the elections were honest, to judge by all accounts and, even more impressive, the results. There was a time in Mexico when the opposition couldn't even get on the ballot, or even walk the streets. Now it has been swept into power. Not even James Carville's help could save the party of the entirely too institutionalized revolution.

And not even the leader of the creaky old establishment, the well defeated Francisco Labastida, challenges the results. "The citizens have made a decision that we should respect,'' he told the Mexican people, "and I'll set the example myself.''

Let's hope that word filters down through all the levels of his still pervasive party. If Mexico is fortunate, he will prove its John Adams, not its plotting Aaron Burr.

Mexico's neighbor to the north and friends of freedom everywhere can only be lifted up by news of this election.

On getting the news of his impressive victory -- early returns showed his party getting almost half the vote in a three-way race -- Vicente Fox spoke of making Mexico "the great country we all have dreamed of.''

Americans will celebrate with the new president, with Mexico and with the Mexico of the future. It suddenly seems close.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate