stirs old passions in Mexicans
What’s the big deal about a group of high-ranking
politicians meeting with Carlos Salinas, the former Mexican president?
It’s not that rare for political leaders to
seek advice from their predecessors, even when they’re from different parties.
These meetings are usually private and low-key, perhaps
nothing more than a telephone call. They can result in genuine friendships, as happened between Democrat Bill Clinton and
the man he defeated, George Bush, a Republican.
Now there’s a flap about a Mexican meeting
to discuss budget reform. It involved an unspecified number of participants, but certainly included Finance Secretary Francisco
Gil Diaz; the former president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Roberto Madrazo; his secretary general, Elba
Esther Gordillo; and, it would seem, others, at Salinas’ house.
And the meeting took place two years ago, for goodness
A few sketchy details have emerged since Gordillo
let the cat out of the bag a couple of weeks ago. Denials and evasions followed and then, one by one, several participants
issued admissions of guilt — if one can be found guilty of attending a meeting.
Ruben Aguilar, the spokesman for President Vicente
Fox, who was on the record saying he was sure Gil Diaz had not attended any such meeting, issued a testy statement saying
the Finance Secretary can meet with whomever he wants.
The meeting’s objective was to negotiate passage
of a tax reform bill, which, among other things, would have broadened the 15-percent value-added tax to include food and medicine.
By all accounts the meeting was a failure. A few
changes were made to the budget that was passed but nothing substantial.
When Salinas confirmed that the meeting did take
place, he said he was acting as a concerned citizen, adding, “It would be egotistical on my behalf to have refused my
experience in government concerning this matter.”
So what’s the problem? Actually there are two.
First, it wasn’t a meeting between a sitting
president and a former president. It was between a former president, senior members of his political party, and a member of
the current president’s cabinet, apparently without Fox’s knowledge.
Second is the issue of Salinas himself.
Salinas won the presidential election in 1988 following
a questionable “computer breakdown” amidst apocryphal evidence that he was trailing the candidate for the Party
of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, at the time.
Once in power, Salinas engineered a recovery from
the economic crisis left by his predecessor, Miguel de la Madrid, then negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA), which came into being in 1994.
When Salinas left office in December 1994, all seemed
well. What wasn’t known was that the nation was essentially broke. The house of cards fell apart within days of his
departure. The peso collapsed, banks were in disarray, and inflation spiraled out of control along with interest rates. His
successor, Ernesto Zedillo, spent his entire six-year term cleaning up the mess.
Salinas has tried to pin the blame on Zedillo but
it hasn’t worked. Today most Mexicans believe the damage was done on Salinas’ watch. Salinas fled the country
in disgrace, and returned just a couple of years ago.
Then there’s the issue of corruption. Though
nothing has yet been proven, his brother Raul Salinas is associated with various shady dealings, ranging from the theft of
money from a program to provide milk for low-income families to money laundering for drug traffickers to planning a murder.
Raul also has a mysterious US$100 million bank account in Switzerland. The unsolved murder last year of another brother, Enrique
Salinas, continues to stoke suspicions about Salinas’ family dealings.
Most politicians and observers think Salinas wants
to redeem his image.
Though Carlos Salinas apparently sees himself a Mexican
elder statesmen, the popular view is that, with his secretive comings and goings, he is an éminence grise.
Many people inside and outside the PRI believe Madrazo
is his front man and fear that if he becomes president Salinas will be the power behind the throne. They want none of it.
And so, meetings with Carlos Salinas to discuss government
policy and manipulation of the system strike fear in the hearts of Salinas’ enemies — and in those of the enemies
of Madrazo, too.
Despite Salinas’ achievements, what’s
remembered a decade later are the errors he committed at the end, the pain and suffering they caused Mexicans, and the murky
dealings of Raul. And few want his “help” now.
Kenneth Emmond, an economist, market consultant and
journalist who has lived in Mexico since 1995, is also a columnist with MexiData.info.
He can be reached via e-mail at Kemmond00@yahoo.com.