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Economics, Politics and Violence in Contemporary Mexico

These are pivotal times for Mexico, the second largest country of Latin America, where fundamental transformations are shaping economic, political and social affairs. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Canada has had a profound impact on the Mexican economy. Increases in trade and foreign investment over nearly two decades have been matched by growing labor migration to the United States. Mexico’s ties to the U.S. made it especially vulnerable to the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. The country’s ability to weather the storm remains uncertain, and is a topic of considerable debate among scholars and policy-makers alike.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s political landscape is also in flux. It has been a decade since the historic defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) by National Action Party (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox in the presidential elections of 2000, and the completion of the shift from Mexico's hegemonic party system to an imperfect but competitive and pluralistic democracy. This process of political transition continued in 2010, when the PRI was defeated by left-right alliances in three states that it had controlled without interruption for more than eight decades. However, the PRI regained control of the lower house of Congress in 2009 and may well regain the presidency in 2012. Political uncertainty has been exacerbated by a staggering acceleration of violence during the administration of President Felipe Calderon, as the Mexican state confronts a number of organized criminal networks.

Though often analyzed separately, the economic, political and security challenges faced by Mexico are interrelated and may be most fruitfully addressed holistically. To that end, the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University (AU) convened a dozen leading experts, including AU faculty and graduate students and scholars from the Washington DC area and Mexico, to present their research on contemporary Mexico. The all-day event drew an audience of 71 and included a luncheon keynote address by Carlos Hurtado, General Manager for the Southern Cone Countries at the Inter American Development Bank and former Budget Undersecretary at Mexico’s Ministry of Finance (2000-06), Chief Economic Advisor to the President of Mexico (1997-2000) and his country's first ambassador to the OECD (1994-97).