Progress in Mexico

Mexico has had its share of turbulence in recent years, but 1997 is likely to earn a special place in the country's annals. It has witnessed something akin to a phased-in, largely positive, revolution.

Yes, negatives are still much in evidence. Narco-trafficking is rife. The cartels' penetration of Mexican law enforcement is a profound problem, requiring persistent investigation and courageous reforms. But the country's new attorney general, Jorge Madrazo Cullar, is showing the kind of commitment that may yet get the job done. His antidrug colleagues - and potential critics - in Washington have been impressed.

The Mexican economy has vigorously rebounded from its peso-crisis depths. But steering a path toward continued free-market reforms has, ironically, become more difficult in the country's pluralizing political environment. The recent passage of President Ernesto Zedillo's sound budget plan by the lower house of the national legislature - where the president's party is now in the minority - signaled, however, that partisanship can give way to national interest.

The revolution of 1997 reached its apex last July, when opposition parties for the first time wrested control of the Chamber of Deputies away from the long-supreme Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). In another burst of change, the ruling party lost control of the the capital, Mexico City, in its first-ever mayoral election in the fall.

Much of the credit for Mexico's dramatic moves toward greater democracy goes to President Zedillo. He has been willing to see his party's, and his office's, huge power recede so that his country can progress.

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