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by Bryan Norman
The story of Carlos Salinas is indeed a sad one. What started out as a promising administration ended in disaster. Salinas became president because of corruption and his administration would end because of corruption. In the end, the Mexican people would be the ones who suffered
Salinas de Gortari, Carlos (1948-), president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994, was born in Mexico City and graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1969. Like many well-off Mexicans, he attended school in the United States. He earned a doctorate in political economy and government in 1978. When he returned, he was made director of financial planning for the government in Mexico. He was also served as top aide to the director, Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado. In 1981 he resigned to become campaign manager for de la Madrid Hurtado. When de la Madrid won the election, Salinas succeeded him in the financial planning post. Salinas brought in talented young staff, but his program that dealt with the economic depression led to widespread chaos.
The election of 1988 brought Salinas into office. However, the election was very corrupt. When the returns came in, a high number of votes went to the opposing candidate,Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of former President Lázaro Cárdenas. A computer glitch was conveniently found to manipulate the results. When the dust cleared, the government candidate won the election. Salinas took office under a cloud of suspicion and very little support. The PRI percentage of votes in presidential elections had been 90 percent for Lopez Mateos and almost 100 percent for Lopez Portillo, it declined to 72 percent for de la Madrid and barely 50 percent for Salinas--and that was with a lot of help.
When Salinas took office in 1988, he took office as if he had a mandate. He set out to change Mexico forever. In the end his presidency ended like so many in the past.What started off as a very promising presidency ended in disgrace.
With the ending of the Cold War and the rejection of Marxist socialism in most of the world, Salinas took a bold step. He cancelled the Mexican Revolution. His rejection of revolutionary ideas was known by the press as salinastroika. These ideas would effect three main areas--political, economic, and religious. During the revolution the church was ostracized by the government. Its power was stripped and its lands taken. Under Salinas all of this was changed. Nuns and priests could wear their uniforms in public and vote. The church once again could own property. In a big step, diplomatic relations with the Vatican were once more established.
In previous administrations labor unions were protected; however, under Salinas this was not so. Salinas jailed the leader of the oil workers union, Joaquín Galicia. During the campaign Galicia claimed Salinas murdered a girl when he was a little boy. Since the girl was an Indian, Salinas was able to get off. He charged union leaders with tax evasion and jailed them. Salinas seemed to be setting up a police state.
Another dagger in the revolution came in 1992, when Salinas ended the ejido system. He declared "In the past, land distribution was a path of justice; today it is unproductive and impoverishing." In the past the heart of the revolution was to take lands away from the church and give it to the peasants. However, since most of the land by 1992 was bought by the wealthy this represented an advance. By 1993, the economy was going strong in Mexico. With privatization of companies inflation was lowered to 10 percent and the foreign debt reduced dramatically. This set up Salinas grand finale. This grand finale was called NAFTA.
On Dec.17, 1992, President George H. W. Bush, Mexican President Salinas, and Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney signed the historic North American Free Trade Agreement. Under NAFTA, the United States, Canada, and Mexico became a single giant trading partner. This agreement encompassed 400 million people with $ 6.5 trillion worth of goods. All tariffs between the United States and Mexico would be phased out in fifteen years. The United States and Canada had a free-trade agreement since 1989. NAFTA officially took effect on November 17, 1993, as the U.S. Congress approved NAFTA.
At the end of 1993, life could not be better for Salinas. He had turned the Mexican economy around and was very popular. As his term came close to an end he appointed his successor. His name was Luis Donaldo Colosio, a handsome University of Pennsylvania graduate. Life was great for Salinas, and he looked forward to becoming President of the World Trade Organization. However, 1994 would be disastrous for Salinas and for Mexico.
It was not a Happy New Year for Salinas and Mexico. On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista rebels started an uprising in the state of Chiapas. Mexico's southernmost state had always be a source of tension. The Chiapas had always been the center of poverty and suffering in Mexico.The Chiapas were the forgotten people of Mexico. More people in this state die of tuberculosis than in parts of Mexico. Drug trafficking had put several thousand people in prison. No longer protected by the ejido system, the Chiapas land was being taken over by creditors and landlords. They had nowhere to turn.
The rebels took to the hills and seized about a dozen towns. The government responded with 20,000 troops. The government reported that 145 people were killed when the uprising began. The government brutally attacked the rebels. Many groups marched to denounce the government's brutality of the rebels. In March, Salinas ordered a cease fire with the Zapatista rebels. However Chiapas remained a cauldron of discontent for Mexico and would eventually help bring down Salinas.
The Church became a source of content for Salinas. The movement called Liberation Theology became very popular. This belief included the church getting more involved in helping the poor and homeless. This meant the rebels in Chiapas had a powerful ally in the Church. This was another strike against Salinas.
The problems would only get worse for Salinas. In March of 1994, Donald Colosio was assassinated. Colosio would have surely won the presidency. Ironically, just weeks before the shooting, Colosio distanced himself from the Salinas Government. He promised to reform the government and to separate the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party from the government. Even though a half- crazed lone gunman was arrested, many people believed Salinas was behind it. Ernesto Zedillo took Colosio's place as the chosen winner. He became president in a fair and honorable election.
The Presidency of Salinas became more of a soap opera in September of 1994. José Francisco Ruiz Massieu was assassinated. He was the former brother-in law of of Salinas. The marriage of Salinas and his former wife ended in a bitter divorce. Raul Salinas the brother of the president was found guilty of planning the death of Massieu. Raul definitely became a liability for his brother. It was also discovered that Raul helped produce 21 new billionaires during Salinas economic miracle. He did this by peddling and corruption. Once again only a few benefited in Mexico while the vast majority continued to suffer. When the economy took a turn for the worse Salinas was to blame. The problems only escalated for Salinas.
During Salinas' rule violent crime and drug trafficking were a big problem. Once a peaceful town, Mexico City, became a very dangerous city especially for tourist.Many were kidnapped in hope for high rewards. People were warned not to take unmarked taxis. The number of rapes, especially, up in Mexico City. The drug trade by 1995 had infiltrated the Mexican Government.The drug lords became very powerful, and many people feared Mexico would turn into another Colombia. Since NAFTA Mexican trucks can easily pass through the U.S.border. Many of these trucks are carrying drugs. Some people even believe the border guards were paid off by Mexican drug lords. By the time Zedillo became President, Salinas was in disgrace. In 1995 he was forced to leave the country that he loved. He was exiled to Ireland. He continued to fight for his and his family's reputations.
In 1998, Swiss prosecutors claimed there was more than $130 million of drug money put into a Swiss account. At least three witnesses have reported to Swiss prosecutors that drug cartels paid off members of the Salinas family. Raul Salinas and his brother, the former President were mentioned. This led to charges being filled against Raul Salinas. Witnesses claimed Carlos Salinas knew and approved of his brother's actions. Of course the former President denied all charges.
Salinas would not return to Mexico until June of 1999. He was not well received in Mexico. While in Mexico he gave two interviews. In these interviews he defended himself and his brother. He also blamed Zedillo for destroying the Mexican economy. Salinas defended his economic policies, saying that poverty had been sharply reduced during his rule. He denied his administration had been involved in the drug trade or that it increased during his rule. The former President said he had no desire to get back into politics.
The saga of President Salinas continues. In November of this year a tape that could incriminate Salinas was found. The attorney general of Mexico said "a tape recording of a telephone conservation possibly linking former President Carlos Salinas to secret foreign bank accounts was authentic." The tape was between Raul and his sister. In this tape Raul called his brother a traitor and criticized him for denying knowledge of secret foreign bank accounts. The attorney general is continuing to investigate the money-laundering case pending against Raul. Even though this tape can not be used in court it could help solve the case.
The 2000 Mexican election saw Vicente Fox to be the winner. On December 4th he issued an investigation into Salinas and his family. The new president claimed that Salinas and his family owed nearly 1.6 million dollars in back taxes. Fox was the first president to be elected in Mexico since 1929 who was not part of the PRI. He promised to end the corruption that has plagued Mexican politics. The sad chapter for Salinas has not ended; it may be just beginning. What started out as a promising rule ended in corruption. Of course, he would not have a rule if not for corruption. Without the year of 1994, Salinas would have went down as a great president.
As Salinas was getting ready for the New Year Party on December 31, who could have predicted such a year in which a man was brought down, a man who thought he was above the law. Many leaders of Mexico went down the same path but without such the terrible price. Maybe the people of Mexico are tired of the corruption in the politics. Maybe with the new election President Fox will be a new leader. Maybe the leaders like Salinas will be for the history books, never to be repeated. Maybe it will be a new day in Mexico. Hopefully for the Mexican people, it is a new day and finally justice will be served in Mexico. Maybe the Salinases of the world will remember that you reap what you sow.
On-line. Internet 1999. www. mexconnect.com/mex_ history
On-line. Internet 1994. www. csis-scrs.gc.ca/eng/comment
On-line. Internet 1999. www.cnn.com/World/americas/9906/13/mexico
On-line. Internet 2000. www.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/americas/11/07/mexico