Carlos Fuentes | Critical Review by Peter Canby

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Carlos Fuentes.
This section contains 1,025 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Peter Canby

Critical Review by Peter Canby

SOURCE: "Betrayed by the Revolution," in New York Times Book Review, August 11, 1996, p. 14.

In the following review, Canby provides a mixed assessment of A New Time for Mexico.

Carlos Fuentes is many things: a diplomat and self-described "transopolitan" who wears Savile Row suits and didn't live in Mexico until he was 16; a "leftist" who was banned from entry into the United States under the McCarran-Walter Act during the 1960's but who, inside Mexico, is regularly derided for his gringo mentality; an accomplished novelist who is perennially nominated for the Nobel Prize; and, finally, an interpreter of Mexico to the United States and of the United States to Mexico. A New Time for Mexico, Mr. Fuentes's latest collection of essays, reveals the author in interpreter mode, and even though it contains several chapters that leave the impression of having been included only to pad out a thin manuscript, it is, at its heart, an insightful and often brilliant reflection on Mexican governance and the daunting problems the nation faces today.

Mr. Fuentes argues that Mexico's strength lies in its racial and cultural diversity, but adds that this diversity was suppressed until the 1910 Revolution. During the Revolution, the Government not only distributed land to Mexico's poor and eliminated the institutions of caste, but also allowed the country to acknowledge, for the first time, the complexity of its Indian, black and Spanish heritage.

Still, Mr. Fuentes continues, a centralizing, authoritarian legacy bequeathed by both the Aztecs and the Spanish existed in opposition to the liberating effects of the Revolution. This legacy was magnified over the centuries by a tradition of governing according to the tenets of scholasticism—a school of thought associated with Thomas Aquinas—which postulates the idea that the common good is greater and more important than the rights of individuals. Although this autocratic philosophy was part of the world rejected by the Revolution, Mr. Fuentes contends that between 1920 and 1940, when the Revolution consolidated itself into the present ruling party—the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI—it essentially adapted Mexico's Thomist traditions for its own ends.

The postrevolutionary Government was, according to Mr. Fuentes, a regime that managed to be at once authoritarian and progressive. Presidents were granted autocratic powers, but only for six-year terms, and the Government itself became a kind of Thomist hierarchy through which people fulfilled themselves.

This system worked well as long as the Government lived up to its implicit pact with the Mexican people to guarantee peace, stability and a broad-based prosperity. But after the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas (1934–40), and more particularly after the Mexican Government's massacre of students in Tlatelolco Square during the Olympic year of 1968, the ruling party became, in Mr. Fuentes's opinion, increasingly self-serving. A series of incompetent, greedy and corrupt presidents led Mexico to its current financial straits.

At the present time, however, Mr. Fuentes is concerned about what he sees as a greater problem. During the hundred years or so after independence from Spain and before the Revolution, Mexico, he argues, went through a period when its leadership developed an "extralogical" obsession with French, British and American forms of government. Particularly during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, this outlook enabled the Mexican Government to dismiss its Thomist sense of obligation to its citizenry and allowed the ruling clique to enrich itself at the expense of the general population. Mr. Fuentes sees this dynamic echoed in Mexico's present leadership, many of whom, he notes, are graduates of Ivy League and Eastern colleges who have "centered their lives on the New York Stock Exchange." He is not particularly fond of the new President, Ernesto Zedillo, whose "lean and hungry look" he associates with the "trenchant consistency of the Anglo-American conservatives." The previous President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, does not fare much better. While Mr. Fuentes concedes that Mr. Salinas tamed inflation and managed the debt, he alludes to Mr. Salinas's economic policies as "archaic, savage capitalism, concentrating wealth in a minority and waiting for the impossible miracle of trickle-down."

Although Mr. Fuentes approves of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] in theory, because he feels it is important for Mexico to open up to the world, he disapproves of the specifics, which he says are rooted in the "gospel preached … by Reagan and Thatcher." Nafta, Mr. Fuentes declares, is collapsing the Mexican economy without creating the conditions for new investment, and he fears that United States loans to Mexico will be used as a means of compromising Mexico's sovereignty.

Mr. Fuentes's solutions run to the social democratic. He speaks of the need for an open government, for checks and balances, for redesigning loans so that foreign money has to stay in Mexico and can be invested productively. It's hard to fault Mr. Fuentes for any of these eminently sensible ideas, but it's also hard to take them too seriously. Mr. Fuentes is like a good dinner guest. He is articulate, charming, erudite and clever, but his proposed solution to everything seems to be to convene men of good will. The question is, can this approach address the depth of Mexico's problems today?

Mr. Fuentes hints darkly that Luis Donaldo Colosio, the assassinated PRI presidential candidate (with whom the author reveals himself to have been quite close), was killed by what he calls the dinosaur wing of the PRI because he was outspokenly intent on reforming a Government whose interests extended to wide-scale drug trafficking and money laundering. Yet nowhere, beyond a "Jurassic Park" joke or two, does Mr. Fuentes address the critical issue of the effects of the drug trade on Mexican politics.

Mr. Fuentes includes, in this collection, the diaries he kept during the traumatic years of 1994 and 1995. Toward the middle of 1994, he mentions an invitation he received from the guerrilla leader Subcommander Marcos to take part in Mr. Marcos's "National Democratic Convention." It is briefly amusing to hear Mr. Marcos and Mr. Fuentes trading oracular pronouncements as if they were on an episode of Star Trek. But after a while you want Mr. Fuentes to get on with it, to go to the convention and tell us what it's like. He never does.

(read more)

This section contains 1,025 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Peter Canby
Follow Us on Facebook