Salinas,Carlos, The Story of. 1988-1994
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
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
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
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