International History and Politics
12 October 2020

The Use of Rumor by the State in the Presidential Succession under the PRI in Mexico

Octavio Figueroa, second year Master's candidate in International History, discusses his research on the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and its political exploitation of secrecy and rumors.


Event Summary

The first History Brunch of the academic year 2020/2021 took place on Monday the 12th of October, following the Graduate Institute’s new hybrid format due to Covid-19. During this session, students explored the Mexican political sphere, as Master’s candidate Octavio Figueroa presented his paper on “Secretism and Rumour in the Presidential Succession under the PRI”.

The talk focused on the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), which is one of the most important political parties in Mexico (uninterruptedly holding power from the 1930s to the 2000s). Historians have described this controversial and long-lasting rule as “the perfect dictatorship,” an epithet indicative of the party’s uncommon capacity to maintain absolute hegemony in a country constantly swaying between democracy and authoritarianism.

According to Octavio, however, this label risks oversimplifying the complex dynamics of power management within the PRI. Following this line of inquiry, Octavio’s paper focused on the PRI’s exploitation of secrecy and societal-born rumours as political tools to enhance the effectiveness of its presidential campaigns. He further described the mechanisms behind Mexican presidential successions as “secretist,” and argued that the PRI followed a deliberately opaque political process, in order to present the party in a mystical light and strengthen its credibility among the population, curious about the power politics taking place behind closed-doors. Nevertheless, the success of these “performances” relied on precise and pragmatic machinations. Among these – Octavio argued – were rumours. Through this secretist process, the PRI deliberately crafted uncertainties, which would spark societal interpretations of political events. In other words, the PRI was able to exploit the population’s hopes and fears to create a narrative around itself as a “problem-solver,” by addressing those rumours. This political strategy, Octavio claims, helped the PRI to maintain a long political rule in Mexico, despite socio-economic instability in that time period.


KEYWORDS: International History ProgrammesInternational History