When Mexican President Vicente Fox publicly opened a vast archive of confidential government files in 2000, investigative journalist Jacinto Rodriguez was one of the first in line to enter the former prison that houses the National Archive. There, inside the cells of what was once known as the “Black Palace,” Rodriguez spent more than a decade poring over thousands of documents that revealed dark secrets of Mexico’s authoritarian past and threw light onto the 71-year, uninterrupted reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
The archives provided insights into Mexico’s unofficial past, said Rodriguez, one of the founders of the independent political magazine Emeequis.
“It is like a window into a story of Mexico that stands in stark contrast to the official story,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a story engulfed in shadows that explains the long and invisible tyranny led by the party that ruled Mexico since 1929.”
Until 2000, the PRI maintained what some critics called “the perfect dictatorship” because it kept its democratic façade, but behind the scenes ordered the torture and killings of political opponents and exerted an ominous control on the media, church, judiciary, and other institutions.
Rodriguez’s research in the Mexican archives led him to write three books on the murky practices the PRI used to remain in power with little opposition.
In “The Secret Payrolls of Government,” he wrote about Mexico’s dirty war against left-wing guerrillas in the 1970s. He had access to documents that detailed a bureaucracy of repression such as intelligence files describing torture sessions, interrogation manuals, and official accounts of how suspects allegedly were dropped alive into the sea from helicopters.
For his second book, “The Other Secret War,” he used letters and confidential documents that showed not only how the government controlled most of the Mexican media to stifle criticism, but how journalists and media outlet owners were often bought off in exchange for their support.