Mexico’s 1988 presidential election was the first time the
ruling Partido de la Revolución Institucional (Party of the
Institutional Revolution, pri) had faced a serious electoral
challenge since 1940. The party candidate, Carlos Salinas
de Gortari, handpicked by the outgoing president, faced
the usual ineffectual challenge from the right-wing Partido
de Accion Nacional (Party of National Action) and their
candidate Manuel J. Cloutier. More unusual, and more
problematic for the party candidate’s legitimation, was a
challenge from the left. A major recession in 1982 fol-
lowed by a devastating earthquake in 1985 had seriously
weakened the party’s formerly undisputed hegemony in
Mexican politics. The earthquake, in which thousands
died and tens of thousands more were left homeless in
Mexico City alone, revealed the cracks and fissures in the
political as well as geological terrain. Some of the worst
damage occurred in hospitals and housing projects, gov-
ernment buildings that had been constructed with federal
funds. In the aftermath of the earthquake critics blamed
the government for failure to enforce building codes be-
fore the earthquake and for a slow and ineffective response
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