Neoliberalism swept over Mexico like a tsunami. It swept away the country’s edifice of economic nationalism and left in its place an economy based on principles of neoliberalism. These neoliberal practices go by the names of the structural adjustment programs (SAPs), or the Washington Consensus. In 1982, when Mexico declared its lack of adequate resources to meet external debt service payments, it (like other Latin American countries) entered into debt renegotiations. These renegotiations required Mexico to implement reforms such as the privatization of state-owned enterprises, currency devaluation, and state budget reductions. Later agreements expanded upon the neoliberal reforms (the 1986 adherence to GATT; the 1992 revision of Article 27 of the Constitution, the 1993 signing of NAFTA, and the 1994 peso devaluation). Multiple iterations of the Foreign Investment Laws opened up Mexico to foreign investors. The goal of the neoliberal adjustments was to stabilize the economy and make it attractive for foreign direct investment. FDI, as well as open trade, promised to bring economic well-being and political stability to Mexico. The evaluations of the post-1982 reforms are mixed, but by the 21st century, tend toward “disappointing.” Increasing globalization has further marginalized Mexico. Neoliberal globalization is essentially about Mexico’s integration into the current global economy and the interaction of the global and the local. Mexico has been integrated into the global economy since Cortez, but the tsunami of neoliberalism has left Mexico with fewer armaments for successful development.
Kathleen C. Schwartzman
Joshua K. Salyers
Revolutionary leaders favored depictions of Mexico City in the mid-20th century that highlighted the progress and orderly growth of a modern industrial city. The ruling party made Mexico City the focus of post–World War II development policies and the showcase for the success of those policies in achieving the new goals of the Mexican Revolution during a period of sustained economic growth known as the “Mexican miracle.” When, in the early 1960s, the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis published The Children of Sánchez, his popular study of urban poverty, and turned the public’s attention away from the sites that underscored the official narrative of orderly industrial growth, it incited a heated public debate in Mexico City. The book contained the oral histories of a family living in the low-income neighborhood of Tepito, in the center of the capital, and was a shocking account, told in their own words, of a family’s attempt to survive urban life. Supporters of the modernizing policies of federal officials and the capital’s mayor, Ernesto Uruchurtu, attacked the book in the press and even filed formal complaints with Mexico’s attorney general demanding that the book and its author be banned from the country and the publisher reprimanded. They claimed that the book was too vulgar for public consumption and called it a foreigner’s attack on the reputation of the country and the city. Critics of the Institutional Revolutionary Party used the publicity generated by the attacks to open up a dialog about the marginalized people left behind by urban development and engaged in the debates as a safe way to express its own concerns about Uruchurtu’s inhumane development policies and the government’s insistence on hiding reality to present the city to the international community as a modern showcase.
All cities are forged by politics. But Brazil’s “informal” neighborhoods—and especially the favelas that now shape every Brazilian urban landscape—have an especially raw link to the political world. Favelas and other informal settlements are vital to Brazil’s cityscapes; they are also spaces historically defined by weak formal regulation and tenuous urban citizenship. In the informal city, property tenancy, city services, and basic civil protections were historically defined as privileges rather than rights. This was not for lack of claims-making; favela residents demanded urban belonging and engaged in intense legal battles over issues of property and regulation long before Brazil’s “rights to the city” movements gained international recognition. But Brazilian institutions proved mostly unwilling to recognize those claims, forcing informal residents to rely on a wide range of political strategies to achieve some modicum of permanence, citizenship, and rights to the city. Urban informality and urban politics thus developed in tandem in Brazil before 1960, as favelas successfully rooted themselves in Brazil’s most significantly “informal” cities: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil’s national capital until 1960 and the birthplace of the term “favela”) and Recife (the Northeast’s regional capital, long Brazil’s third largest city, and a hothouse for the politics of informality). In both places, informal politics involved grassroots mobilization, symbolic contestations in the public sphere, and engagement with a remarkably diverse tangle of activists, patrons, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, politicians, intellectuals, artists, policymakers, and politicians. Informal residents were agile and effective political actors, who managed collectively and incrementally to establish favela residents’ de facto right to occupy Brazilian cityscapes. At the same time, the contradictions of favela politics made it difficult to convert de facto permanence into juridically enforceable rights to the city. The outcome was a politics of permanence rather than a politics of equality, the results of which are still all too apparent in Brazil’s contemporary urban form.
As the number of favelas and poor residents of Rio de Janeiro grew quickly by the mid-20th century, they became the object of policymaking, social science research, real estate speculation, and grassroots mobilization. After a decade in which local authorities recognized the de facto presence of favelas but without legally ascertaining the right of permanence, the 1960s and early 1970s witnessed the era of mass eradication. Seemingly contradictory—but complementary—policies also included the development of massive low-income housing complexes and innovative community development and favela urbanization experiences empowered by community organizations with the assistance of experts committed to improving the lives of poor Cariocas (residents of Rio). Favelas in Rio were at the crossroads of a particular interplay of forces: the urgent need to modernize Rio’s obsolete and inadequate urban infrastructure; the new administrative status of the city after the inauguration of Brasilia; and the redefinition of the balance of power between local, municipal, and federal forces in a time of radical politics and authoritarian and technocratic military regimes, Cold War diplomacy, and the transnational flows of expertise and capital.