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Zedillo, Ernesto (1994-2000)

by Kelly Albritton

Ernesto Zedillo was born on December 27, 1951 in Mexico City. He is a graduate of Mexico's public school system. At age eighteen, Zedillo enrolled at the Advanced School of Economics of the National Polytechnic Institute. In 1972, he received his bachelor's degree in economics. In 1977, Zedillo attended Yale University where he earned a Master's degree in economics, and then in 1981 he went on to obtain his PhD also in economics. At Yale, he studied the issue of public indebtedness in Mexico and its link to future growth of petroleum.

In 1978, Zedillo taught at the National Polytechnic Institute and the College of Mexico. After teaching, he became interested and involved in economic research and analysis at the Bank of Mexico. This is when he became known and widely recognized as one of the main proponents of modernization policies. While working at the Bank of Mexico, Zedillo established the Exchange Risk Coverage Trust Fund (FICORCA). This agency made it possible to restructure the debt of many Mexican companies in the early 1980's. It also assured companies' financial recovery and preserved the jobs of thousands of Mexican workers.

Zedillo joined the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). From 1988 to 1992, Zedillo served as Secretary of Programming and Budget. In this position, he formulated the National Development Plan and prepared the federal expenditure budgets for fiscal years 1989 to 1992. In 1992, Zedillo became Secretary of Public Education and began a thorough reform of pre-school, primary, and secondary education in Mexico. He also developed education programs for Mexico's less-developed areas.

Zedillo became the manager for the Institutional Revolutionary Party's presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. When Colosio was murdered in March of 1994, Zedillo was named the Institutional Revolutionary Party's candidate for Mexico's presidency. Zedillo was a drab and uncharismatic candidate but, in August, Zedillo gained Mexico's presidency nearly by default with seventy eight percent of registered voters participating in the election. He remained Mexico's president until 2000.

He is referred to as the "accidental" president because Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the previous president, had hand picked his successor but that man was assassinated and Salinas quickly picked Zedillo. As president, he abandoned his country's traditional style of governing for a commitment to democratic principles. For example, he appointed a member of the opposition to his cabinet.

As president, he dedicated himself to fighting poverty. He was committed to spending more on infrastructure, doing away with corruption in the justice system and reducing inequality between the rich and the poor in Mexican society. He could not follow through with some of his political reforms early in his term because of an economic crisis. In December of 1994, Zedillo devalued the Mexican peso trying to correct the trade imbalance. Instead of this action leading to an increase in exports, the American stocks dropped sixteen percent. This lead to a six hundred million loss to international investors, the very group whose capital was needed to improve the nation's economy. This economic crisis still continues to haunt the Mexican economy. As President, Zedillo struggled to stabilize the Mexican economy. He advocated a policy encouraging a flexible exchange rate to drive up exports and a fiscally conservative fifty percent hike in the income tax. Zedillo instituted political, judicial, and economic reforms and played a key role in moving Mexico toward democratization.

Zedillo looked at the state of Mexico through the perspective of the world. He believed that the biggest threats to stability are violent conflict and poverty among peoples of the world. He believed that the old and new disputes between peoples continue to render our unsafe world and that poverty poses an even greater threat to stability than this conflict. He strongly believed that a vital solution to this problem consists of promoting among the peoples and the nations of the world, more globalization. What he means is more international trade, more investing flowing across countries, and more knowledge diffused internationally among communities and individuals. Also by creating wealth, shared opportunities, and common interest, will do much to defeat the evils of conflict and poverty. He says that these principles are not generally accepted and often bitterly opposed.

In his view, isolationism never will be a good policy. Isolation has been a major cause of poverty and confrontation, both with a high toll of human suffering. He believes that the bad lessons of isolationism are found in the United States. Developing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 brought United States import tariffs to their highest protective level in the country's history and brought calamitous consequences for international. For example, Mexico, has not successfully developed to its potential in trade because of its protectionist economic policies. Zedillo's point is that the many countries' success stories are created by their access to the world market, and again, globalization is needed for the lesser developed countries such as Mexico. Zedillo believes that globalization is the solution to the problems of poverty and inequality which unfortunately prevail in Mexico and in the whole world.

Zedillo has no doubt that the globalization formula will work in the country closest to his heart, Mexico. He believes that the unfortunate circumstances of Mexico's economy are a thing of the past and now it is fully democratic and has good foundations to attain development in the years to come. Mexico's recent participation in Zedillo's ideas on globalization and the global economy has awarded the people better jobs to support their families.

It is because of the benefits of openness that Zedillo, as Mexico's president, decided to launch negotiations to achieve free trade with other countries and regions beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). By the time he concluded his presidential term, Mexico had free trade agreements with thirty-two countries, including members of the European Union. Zedillo really accomplished much in doing so because today, no other nation of the world has free trade agreements both with North America and Europe. It was during his presidency that Mexico experienced the highest GDP growth in recent Mexican history.

From his working class beginnings to a Yale doctorate in Economics and the Mexican presidency, Ernesto Zedillo is an inspiration to his country and to the world. A practitioner and a policy-maker, Zedillo has a unique perspective on globilization, particularly the critical relationship between the developed and developing countries. While President of Mexico, Zedillo paved the way for a fresh democratic climate while attacking the roots of political corruption. He greatly reduced the disparity between the rich and the poor, and stabilized the Mexican economy through increased exports and responsible control of taxation. Mexico, in general, is filled with optimism, contrasting with the first months of Zedillo's administration, when the nation plunged into a depression caused by an out-of-control peso devaluation that threw millions out of work or into bankruptcy. Mexico's economy started to boom in his final term as president. In addition to his economic achievements, historians and analyst predict Zedillo will be remembered as the standard-bearer of political reforms that helped pave the way for a more democratic Mexico.

Zedillo is married to Nilda Patricia Velasco. They have five children: Ernesto, Emiliano, Carlos, Nilda Patricia, and Rodrigo. Since leaving the office of president, Zedillo has been appointed Chairman of the Financing for Development High Level Panel convened by the United Nations Secretary General and Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

CNN: Newsmaker Profiles. Retrieved March 2, 2003 from the World Wide Web: http://www.cnn.com/resources/newsmakers/world/namerica/zedillo.html

K-State Landon Lectures by Ernesto Zedillo (May 3, 2001). Retrieved March 2, 2003 from the World Wide Web: http://www.mediarelations.ksu.edu/WEB/News/NewsReleases/zedillotext50301.html

The President's Biography. Retrieved March 2, 2003 from the World Wide Web:

http://zedilloworld.presidencia.gob.mx/PAGES/office/office_biog.html