Editorials | Opinions | May 2008
|An Unwelcome Former President Returns to Mexico|
Allan Wall - PVNN
In the midst of all Mexico's other problems, including the PEMEX debate and the ongoing drug war carnage, who should choose this time to return to Mexico, but former president Carlos Salinas.
|Carlos Salinas de Gortari|
Nor is the controversial former president content to keep a low profile. No, far, from it. Salinas is promoting a new book and speaking out on the issues, and critiquing his presidential successors.
Carlos Salinas was president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994. The country was in a state of transition, with the PRI slowly losing power, and opposition forces gaining power.
Despite having begun his administration under the cloud of a contested election, Salinas launched an ambitious series of reforms which, though controversial, changed Mexico in several ways.
It was Salinas who negotiated NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) with the U.S. and Canada. Salinas reversed the 1982 bank nationalization, renegotiated Mexico's debt, drastically reduced inflation and while he didn't stop the devaluation of the peso, it did devalue less than during the two previous presidencies.
Salinas was a great privatizer, although much of the privatization might have been better classified as crony capitalization. When he took office, Mexico has 600 state-owned industries, when he left office, it only had 250. Carlos Salinas privatized banks, the telephone monopoly Telmex (which Carlos Slim bought) and the television station Imevision (now called TV Azteca.)
President Salinas reformed church-state relations, allowing the clergy to vote and churches to own their own property.
Electoral reforms were made, including the voter ID cards, which set the state for the eventual defeat of the PRI in 2000.
Things were looking good, and many felt that Mexico was on the verge of achieving "First World" status. Salinas has many fans north of the border, where Americans are constantly looking for and hoping for a "Great Mexican Reformer" who will set things straight south of the border.
But in 1994, things started to fall apart. First there was the Zapatista uprising on New Year's Day. Though militarily it didn't amount to much it was (and still is) a public relations disaster for Mexico.
Then, four months before the presidential election, Luis Donaldo Colosio, Salinas' handpicked successor, was assassinated. This was followed by the assassination of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, PRI General Secretary and Salinas' ex-brother-in-law. Salinas' brother Raul took the rap for that and served some time in jail before having the sentence overturned.
The winner of the 1994 election was Colosio's replacement Ernesto Zedillo, in what was widely considered a clean election.
However, shortly after Zedillo took office, the Mexican peso crashed, for which Salinas was blamed, and he went to live in Dublin, Ireland. Near the end of the Zedillo administration, Salinas returned to promote a book he had written Mexico: The Politics and Policies of Modernization. This 1000-page tome (as long as Lord of the Rings) blamed Zedillo for the 1994 peso crash, despite the fact that it occurred just a few weeks after Salinas left office.
And now, Salinas is back from London, where he's been residing, to promote a new book (about half the length of the earlier one) entitled The Lost Decade. Naturally, by the "Lost Decade," Salinas refers to the time period after his presidency. Salinas criticizes his presidential successors Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) of the PRI and Vicente Fox (2000-2006) of the PAN (National Action Party) as "neoliberals". Plus, he goes after AMLO (Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador,) former chief of Mexico City and losing candidate of the 2006 election, calling him a populist.
However, Salinas thinks current president Felipe Calderon, of the PAN, is on the right track, and calls him a "reformer President."
AMLO, meanwhile, in Chiapas to agitate against oil privatization, accused Salinas of being behind Calderon's supposed plan to privatize PEMEX.
Quoth AMLO: "Salinas is one of Calderon's advisers, he helped him with the electoral fraud (2006), now he also helps him in his attempt to privatize petroleum."
Conspiracy theories are never in short supply in Mexico, and Salinas has an interesting one too - accusing his successor Zedillo of being in cahoots with AMLO during the election of 2006.
Vicente Fox meanwhile, while opening up his new Fox Center in the state of Guanajuato, was asked about Salinas' new book, and replied with a "No comment," rather unusual for the loquacious Fox.
As former presidents defend their legacies, time marches on...
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at AllanWall.net.
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