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The Other Mexico

SANTIAGO – For once, Mexico is in the news for something good: an election. What a contrast to the usual coverage by international news agencies, which seldom involves anything other than evil drug lords, terrifying shootouts, and grisly pictures of decapitated bodies.

With the ever-present Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which governed Mexico for seven decades, now due to return to power, one might be tempted to conclude that little has changed in Mexico. That assessment would be wrong.

Mexico today is a vastly different country from what it was under the PRI old guard. Change began to accelerate during Ernesto Zedillo’s six-year rule, beginning in 1994, and has continued under non-PRI administrations since 2000.

Drug-related violence, for one thing, is not as widespread as the nightly news might lead one to believe. True, 50,000 people have died in President Felipe Calderón’s six-year war against drug traffickers. And true, Mexico’s murder rate, 18 per 100,000 people, is frighteningly high. But Brazil’s is 26 per 100,000, South Africa’s is 32, and Venezuela’s is a whopping 67. And the bulk of homicides in Mexico occur in only four states along the United States border. In Mexico’s south, murder rates are lower than in the US, and comparable to those in Canada or Chile.