Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Salinas promoted privatization of state industries and free trade agreements, most notably NAFTA with the United States and Canada. Many believe that his government lacked legitimacy because he won the elections in suspicious circumstances involving a complete shutdown of the computer systems that were concentrating the results of the vote in 1988. That impression was reinforced when at a later date the Mexican Congress voted (the majority of the opposition included) to destroy without opening it the electoral documentation that could prove otherwise.
During his presidency Salinas opened a three-year dialogue with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation armed indigenous revolutionary movement which began on January 1,1994, offering a ceasefire after a few days of fighting.
He left the presidency internationally acclaimed as an economic genius, campaigning for head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but less than a month after he left power new president Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon (Salinas's minister for budget and planning and, later, his minister of education) devalued the Mexican peso (by approximately 200%), plunging Mexico into a deep economic crisis known as the December Mistake.
The December Mistake
A key event in recent Mexican history, "The December Mistake" (Spanish: el error de diciembre) refers to incoming President Zedillo's decision to liberate the peso which lead to an immediate devaluation of 200%. While it took place under Zedillo, and much of the disastrous impact can be traced back to that administration's cronyism and mismanagment of the devaluation, the blame for the underlying causes is usually placed with the outgoing Salinas administration.
While experts agree that a devaluation was necessary, they also tend to concur that the way the government handled it was politically inept: A few days after a private meeting with major Mexican entrepreneurs in which his administration asked them for their opinion of a planned devaluation, Zedillo suddenly announced his government would let the peso exchange rate float freely against the US dollar, by stopping government measures to keep it at a fixed level (by selling dollars, assuming debt, and so on). That resulted in the peso crashing from three pesos to the dollar to six to the dollar in the space of a week (although in the interim dollars were selling for up to 30 pesos in some regions).
Mexican businesses with debts to be paid in dollars, or that relied on supplies bought from the USA, suffered an inmediate hit, with mass industrial lay-offs and several suicides. Businesses whose executives attended the meeting at Zedillo's office were spared the nightmare — forewarned, they quickly bought dollars and renegotiated their contracts into pesos. To make matters worse, the devaluation announcement was made mid-week, on a Wednesday, and for the remainder of the week foreign investors fled the Mexican market without any government action to prevent or discourage it until following Monday when it was too late.
The December Mistake caused so much outrage that for a long time, Salinas did not dare return to Mexico (he was campaigning worldwide for WTO head at the time). The incident also served to make it clear that his influence (if any) on the Zedillo administration was over.
Salinas was blamed for supposedly ignoring the economics problems of his administration, and, his prestige lost, he exiled himself to Dublin, Ireland, where he eventually married again. Although he is free to return to Mexico and does so from time to time, he always stirs controversy. His brother Raúl went to jail accused of masterminding a political assassination of a member of their own party and of committing fraud while working for the government during Carlos's presidency.
In the last years of Zedillo's term, Salinas came to Mexico to announce the publishing of his highly controversial thousand-page book, Mexico: The Policy and the Politics of Modernization. Written during his stay in Ireland (it was his full time job, in effect) and full of citations of press articles and political memoirs, it defended its achievements and blamed Zedillo for the crisis after his administration. Denying all acussations against him, including plotting of Luis Donaldo Colosio's murder, his visit shocked the political scene of Mexico, with surprise interviews (most arranged by him as part of his book's release) in major media. A few days later, however, illegal recordings of a conversation between jailed brother Raúl and one of his sisters were leaked to the media, and their conversation about who really owned the family fortune and Raúl's imprisonment quickly put an end to the affair.
The book – a thick volume with quite small print, every page filled with footnotes and margin notes – proved as controversial as Salinas himself. Its objective value is questioned since it is clearly a document written in self-defense, but it still remains a prime source of material for the scholar, telling us how Salinas viewed himself (and, critics add, demonstrating his selfish egotistical pride). One group of bank debtors formed after the December Mistake (El Barzón ) declared their outrage at what they saw as profiteering from their tragedy, and took the decision to transcribe the whole book, respecting even its layout, and to give it away electronically, and they did just that, in spite of legal threats from the publisher. Salinas probably did not mind – he had already announced that he would donate a copy to each public library in the country.
It seems unlikely Salinas will ever be brought to trial for any of the many (and mostly unproven) verbal accusations against him, but his low popularity and the changing times make his permanent return to Mexico unlikely, and his political career looks irremediably over.
He divorced and married again, having a son after some time. He seems to spend most of his time in Europe with regular travel to Mexico, but he is no longer the media sensation he was. The Mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the left-wing PRD usually blames him for being the mastermind of what he perceives as confabulations against his government and presidential ambitions, not calling him by name but as the unnameable.
On 6 December 2004, Salinas's youngest brother, Enrique, was found dead inside his car with a plastic bag strapped around his head. At first authorities were reluctant to talk of homicide, but later admitted it was, while denying any political implications. As days passed, authorities believed it was either an accidental killing in an extortion attempt by a close friend or associate, or a passional crime involving a member of his family. In either case, it probably was either improvised or made by inexperienced criminals. Enrique's body was abandoned in his car in a zone with surveillance cameras. The tapes show confusion and disorientation by the people who drove Enrique's car to the place and left in another vehicle. Enrique's cell phone was used after his death, and left in the car. Unknown fingerprints were left in the car, and human hairs were found in Enrique's fist. It was determined he was knocked unconscious and killed by suffocation, but not by the plastic bag found with his body. Apparently he knew his attackers and maybe voluntarily met with them.
Many members of his family were called to render testimony, including jailed brother Raúl but not Carlos. Some years ago Enrique was suspected of being financial cover for his elder brothers Raúl and Carlos and had an account in a Swiss bank frozen, but most of the time Enrique held a low profile, being uninvolved with politics and mostly an entepreneur practically unknown to the public. After his death, it was revealed he was currently being investigated in France and by Interpol; that he had some financial problems, and shortly before his death he wrote a letter where he explained in vague terms that he was subjected to terrible pressure by filtrations (presumably a magazine article published about him some time before) and friends, and was afraid of his own and his family's welfare. In January 2005, authorities were forced to confirm the filtration there was the possibility Enrique was killed by agents of the AFI (Mexico's federal criminal police force). According to this hypothesis, he had financial problems with his ex-wife and was advised by his lawyer to hire some AFI agents the lawyer knew to fix the problem. Enrique contacted them but later reached an agreement with his ex-wife and tried to forget the matter, but the agents blackmailed and ultimately murdered him. Authorities also acknowledged they were suspicious of members of Enrique's family because they gave conflicting testimony regarding the hours before the murder and their relationship with Enrique was difficult. At roughly the same time, French authorities revealed they were prosecuting brother Raúl and other members of the family for money laundering.
- The homepage of El Barzón Salinas' book transcription was distributed from this page, but is no longer available.
- Salinas' book, print edition: Carlos Salinas de Gortari, México, un paso difícil a la modernidad (Mexico, a difficult step into modern times) Plaza&Janes, ISBN 8401014921 (Hard to get even in Mexico and possibly out of print)
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