Unwrapping the Riddle That Is Mexico / Jorge Castañeda

Sep 22, 2022

Jorge Castañeda thinks Mexico is in trouble, but almost half of all Mexicans say their country is on the right path. Mexicans, not known for being optimists, apparently are optimistic. Why?


Winston Churchill famously described the Soviet Union as “A riddle wrapped in an enigma, inside a mystery.”  That seems equally to apply to modern day Mexico.

On the one hand, the country is chronically beset by drug cartels, violence, femicide, corruption, poverty, and political shenanigans. The US State Department says that tourists should absolutely not travel to six of Mexico’s 32 states and another seven that are almost as violent and crime ridden. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean says Mexico is the fifth poorest country in the Americas. During the past twelve months, a record 2.3 million people will have been arrested trying to cross the country’s northern border into the United States, including many Mexicans fleeing poverty and violence or simply looking for better lives.

On the other hand, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president, commands approval ratings of around 60% which are the envy of almost every other democratically elected president. AMLO’s party—really more of a social movement he created—is far and away the dominant force in Mexican politics, well positioned to win the presidency for his successor in 2024. Almost half of all Mexicans say their country is on the right path—by comparison, in the United States, only about a quarter think the same about their country.

And more than two-thirds of Mexicans expect life to be better for them and their children five years from now. Mexicans, not known for being optimists, apparently are optimistic. Why?

Jorge Castañeda is as well positioned as anyone to solve the riddle. Castañeda is a leading Mexican academic and author, as well as a former foreign minister and an expert on foreign policy; indeed, he is one of his country’s best known, most incisive commentators on all things political. He thinks Mexico is in trouble.

What do you think? Comment below.

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Jorge Castañeda was Foreign Minister of Mexico from 2000 to 2003. He is a renowned public intellectual, political scientist, and prolific writer, with an interest in Mexican and Latin American politics, comparative politics and US-Mexican and U.S.-Latin American relations.

Born in Mexico City in 1953, Dr. Castañeda received a B. A. from Princeton University and a B. A. from Universite de Paris-I (Pantheon-Sorbonne), an M. A. from the École Pratique de Hautes Etudes, and his Ph. D. in Economic History from the University of Paris-I.

He taught at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) from 1978 through 2004, at Princeton University, and the University of California, Berkeley and (since 1997) at NYU. Jorge Castañeda was a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1985-87) and was a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing Grant Recipient (1989-1991).

Jorge Castañeda has more than 15 books published in the United States and elsewhere. He is a regular columnist for Revista Nexos, the Spanish daily El País and The New York Times. In 1997, he was appointed Global Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at New York University. He is an Emeritus Member of Human Rights Watch. In April 2008, Castañeda was elected Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and International Member of the American Philosophical Society.




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