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Carlos Salinas de Gortari

Carlos Salinas de Gortari

President of Mexico (1988–1994)
The basics
Occupations Economist Hero
Countries Mexico
Gender male
Birth April 3, 1948 (Mexico City)
Education National Autonomous University of Mexico, Harvard Kennedy School
Authority ISNI id Library of congress id VIAF id
Carlos Salinas de Gortari
The details

Carlos Salinas de Gortari (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkarlos saˈlinaz ðe ɣorˈtaɾi]) (born 3 April 1948) is a Mexican economist and politician affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) who served as President of Mexico from 1988 to 1994. Earlier in his career he worked in the Budget Secretariat eventually becoming Secretary. He was the PRI presidential candidate in 1988, and was declared elected on 6 July 1988.

Early life and education

Carlos Salinas was born 3 April 1948, the second son and one of five children of economist and government official Raúl Salinas Lozano and Margarita de Gortari de Salinas. Salinas's father served as President Adolfo López Mateos's minister of industry and commerce, but was passed over as the PRI's presidential candidate in favor of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964–70). When Carlos Salinas was chosen the PRI's presidential candidate for the 1988 election, he told his father, "It took us more than 20 years, but we made it."

A tragedy occurred early in Carlos Salinas's life. On 18 December 1951, when he was three years old, he, his older brother Raúl, then five, and an eight-year-old friend were playing and the Salinas family's twelve-year-old maid, Manuela, was shot. It was never determined which of the three boys pulled the trigger and the incident was declared an accident; it was given newspaper coverage in Excélsior at the time. A judge blamed the Salinas parents for leaving a loaded weapon accessible to their small children. The Salinas family did not know the last name of their 12-year-old maid Manuela—only that she came from San Pedro Atzcapotzaltongo—and it is unknown whether her family ever claimed her body. He has not commented publicly on this tragic early childhood incident.

Salinas attended the National Autonomous University of Mexico as an undergraduate, studying economics. He was an undergraduate when the student movement in Mexico organized against the 1968 Summer Olympics, but there is no evidence of his participation. He was an active member of the PRI youth movement and a political club, the Revolutionary Policy and Professional Association, whose members continued to be his close friends when he was president. Salinas was a skilled dressage horseman, and was a member of the Mexico national team at the Pan-American Games in Cali, Colombia in 1971.

Salinas was one of the Mexicans of his generation who studied at elite foreign universities. He earned a master's degree in Public Administration from Harvard University in 1973 and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in 1978. His doctoral dissertation was published as Political Participation, Public Investment and Support for the System: A Comparative Study of Rural Communities in Mexico.

Presidential Election 1988

Carlos Salinas became presidential candidate in a difficult time for the PRI which for the first time was faced by significant opposition from the left (National Democratic Front) and from the right (National Action Party, PAN). The candidate of the PAN was Manuel Clouthier.

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano registered as an opposing candidate from a left-wing coalition called Frente Democrático Nacional. He rapidly became a popular figure, and became the first opposing candidate to fill the Zócalo with sympathizers and to seriously threaten the PRI, which had won all presidential elections since its inception in 1929. The Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación), through its Federal Electoral Commission, was the institution in charge of the electoral process, and installed a modern computing system to count the votes. On July 6, 1988, the day of the elections, the system "crashed", and when it was finally restored, Carlos Salinas was declared the official winner. Even though the elections are extremely controversial, and some maintain that Salinas won legally, the expression se cayó el sistema (the system crashed, lit. "the system fell down") became a colloquial euphemism for electoral fraud. As one observer put it, "For the ordinary citizen, it was not the computer network but the Mexican political system that had crashed."

The process involved two suspicious shutdowns of the computer system used to keep track of the number of votes. Suspicions later grew as Congress voted (with support from the Revolutionary Institutional and National Action parties) to destroy without opening the electoral documentation. Other people believed that Salinas, in fact, won the ballot, albeit probably not with an absolute majority as the official figures suggested, although that is not required under Mexican election law.

During a television interview in September 2005, Miguel de la Madrid acknowledged that the PRI lost the 1988 elections. However, he immediately clarified his comment by saying that the PRI had "at least lost a significant amount of voters". Asked for comment on De la Madrid's statements, Senator Manuel Bartlett, who was the president of the Federal Electoral Commission (Comisión Federal Electoral) during the De la Madrid administration, declared Salinas won the election albeit with the smallest margin of any PRI candidate before him. He attributed De la Madrid's remarks to his old age (71 years old as of 2005) and the remarks being taken out of context by journalist Carlos Loret de Mola. Ex-president Miguel de la Madrid admitted that the elections had been rigged.

Presidency 1988–1994

Domestic policy

Concerns amongst the general public that the electoral process was fraudulent caused some dissension when Salinas entered office in 1988. In his inaugural address in December 1988, he outlined an ambitious and important goal of "modernizing" Mexico. He contended that

The modernization of Mexico is essential if we are to meet the demands of the 85 million Mexicans of today.... In brief, we need to modernize politics, the economy, and society. The modernization of Mexico is, moreover, an absolute imperative. This is the only way we will be able to affirm our sovereignty in a world undergoing profound transformation.

During his six-year term in office (sexenio) major changes were made to the Constitution of 1917 that affected political reform; church-state relations, ending many aspects of anticlericalism restricting the Catholic Church and other religious organizations; agrarian reform, ending redistribution of land under Article 27; "indigenous peoples, human rights, economic activities of the state, [and] criminal due process."

The 1994 elections were the first to have international observers, and were considered, at that time, the fairest elections in the century, although not free of controversy.

Salinas fought corruption. One example for this is the detention of Joaquín Hernández Galicia, head of the oil workers union.

In 1990, the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos) was created.

For the first time, the PRI lost its two-thirds majority in Congress, which is necessary to conduct constitutional reforms.

At the end of Salinas' presidential term, several politically motivated assassinations occurred. The victims were: Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, and a PRI official, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu.

Zapatista uprising

On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) issued their first declaration from the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. The date coincides with the date that NAFTA came into force. Salinas immediate response works for a peaceful solution: offers pardon to deposed arms; orders cease fire; appointed the peace negotiator and send Mexican Congress a General Amnesty Law.

Economic policy

Salinas continued with the neoliberal economic policy of his predecessor Miguel de la Madrid and converted Mexico into a regulatory state. During his presidential term, the banking system (that had been nationalized by José López Portillo) was privatized, as well as the national phone company TELMEX.

His National Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo) published in 1989 had 4 objectives:

  1. Protecting sovereignty
  2. Democracy
  3. Economic recovery
  4. Improving the living standard.

By the end of his term, inflation had been reduced to 7% in 1994, the lowest figure in 22 years. Shortly after leaving office, due to the so-called December Mistake, inflation rose again to 51%.

During his term, the peso devalued from 2.65 MXP to 3.60 MXN per U.S. dollar by November 30, 1994, the last day of his term; thus the peso devalued far less than it had in the two previous terms. (The peso was later devalued from 4 per dollar to 7.2 in a single week due to the December Mistake.)

He negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with the United States and Canada. Critics say that NAFTA has had mixed results for Mexico: while there has been huge increase in commerce and foreign investment, this hasn't been at all the case for employment and salaries. Salinas also renegotiated Mexico's foreign debt.

Foreign policy

Mexico reestablished diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Moreover, Mexico became member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The First Ibero-American Summit was held and the Chapultepec Peace Accords, a peace agreement for El Salvador, were signed.

Election-year crises

Carlos Salinas's popularity and credibility at the time was high. The economic bubble gave Mexico a prosperity not seen in a generation. This period of rapid growth coupled with low inflation prompted some political thinkers and the media to state that Mexico was on the verge of becoming a "First World nation". In fact, it was the first of the "newly industrialized nations" to be admitted into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in May 1994. It was known that the peso was overvalued, but the extent of the Mexican economy's vulnerability was either not well known or downplayed by both the Salinas administration and the media. This vulnerability was further aggravated by several unexpected events and macroeconomic mistakes made in the last year of his administration.

Several economists and historians have analyzed some of the events and policy mistakes that precipitated the crisis of December 1994. In keeping with the PRI election-year practices, Salinas launched a spending spree to finance popular projects, which translated into a historically high deficit. This budget deficit was coupled with a current account deficit, fueled by excessive consumer spending as allowed by the overvalued peso. In order to finance this deficit, the Salinas administration issued tesobonos, an attractive debt instrument that insured payment in dollars instead of pesos. This may have been a response to three important events that had shaken investor confidence in the stability of the country: the Zapatista uprising, the assassination of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, and the assassination of José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, Salinas' former brother-in-law, who was also the Secretary General of the PRI and whose murder was never solved during Salinas' presidency, even when Mario Ruiz Massieu (Francisco's brother) was the attorney general and in charge of the investigation.

These events, together with the increasing current account deficit fostered by government spending, caused alarm among Mexican and foreign T-bill (tesobono) investors, who sold them rapidly, thereby depleting the already-low central bank reserves (which eventually hit a record low of $9 billion). The economically orthodox thing to do, in order to maintain the fixed exchange rate (at 3.3 pesos per dollar, within a variation band), would have been to sharply increase interest rates by allowing the monetary base to shrink, as dollars were being withdrawn from the reserves. Given the fact that it was an election year, whose outcome might have changed as a result of a pre-election-day economic downturn, the Bank of Mexico decided to buy Mexican Treasury Securities in order to maintain the monetary base, and thus prevent the interest rates from rising. This, in turn, caused an even more dramatic decline in the dollar reserves. These decisions aggravated the already delicate situation, to a point at which a crisis became inevitable and devaluation was only one of many necessary adjustments. Ernesto Zedillo took office on December 1, 1994.

Successor first days crises

Peso devaluation

Soon after taking office, Zedillo announced that his government would let the fixed exchange rate band increase 15 percent (up to 4 pesos per US$), by stopping the unorthodox measures employed by the previous administration to keep it at the previous fixed level (e.g., by selling dollars, assuming debt, and so on). This measure, however, was not enough, and the government was unable to hold this line, and decided to let the exchange rate float. While experts agree that devaluation was necessary, some critics of Zedillo's 22-day-old administration argue that, although economically coherent, the way the crisis was handled was a political mistake. By having announced its plans for devaluation, they argue that many foreigners withdrew their investments, thus aggravating the effects. Whether the effects were aggravated further or not, the result was that the peso crashed under a floating regime from four pesos to the dollar (with the previous increase of 15%) to 7.2 to the dollar in the space of a week.

Mexican businesses with debts to be paid in dollars, or that relied on supplies bought from the United States, suffered an immediate hit, with mass industrial lay-offs and several suicides. 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 the flight until the following Monday, when it was too late.

Salinas faced widespread criticism in Mexico. He was widely blamed for the collapse of the economy and his privatization of several government-run businesses such as Telmex. With respect to the collapse of the economy, he rapidly responded by blaming Zedillo's "inept" handling of the situation, coining the term "December mistake" to refer to the crisis and Zedillo's mistakes. He then argued that he had talked to Zedillo of a possibility of "sharing the burden" of the devaluation by allowing the peso to devaluate a certain percent before his term was over, and the rest of the necessary devaluation would have been done during Zedillo's administration.

Zapatista Crisis

On February 9, 1995, Ernesto Zedillo 71-day-old administration ignited a tremendous social crisis. After he announced Subcomandante Marcos to be Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente. In counterproductive turn of events, President Ernesto Zedillo made a series of decisions that broke the peaceful solution strategy action plan defined by Carlos Salinas that kept the peace since the Zapatista Army of National Liberation uprising and the agreements Zedillo authorized his Secretary of Interior Esteban Moctezuma to compromise with Marcos 3 days before in Guadalupe Tepeyac. No matter there was an amnesty law by Salinas and without knowing exactly who Marcos was, only with the PGR single presumption that Marcos was a dangerous guerrilla. President Ernesto Zedillo decided to launch a military offence to capture or annihilate Marcos. In a televised special broadcast, President Ernesto Zedillo alleged Marcos to be a terrorist in Nicaragua. There was a storm of political pressures claiming for a fast military solution to the 1995 Zapatista Crisis. Conflicting signals got strengthened for a fast military solution. Facts seemed to confirm Manuel Camacho Solís June 16, 1994 accusations that the reason for his resignation as the Chiapas Peace Commissioner was due to sabotage done by then presidential candidate Ernesto Zedillo. Faced with this situation, Rafael Guillén's childhood friend and colleague, at the Jesuits College Instituto Cultural Tampico, Max Appedole played a major roll with the Mexican government to avoid a military solution by demonstrating that, contrary to the accusations announced by President Ernesto Zedillo, Rafael Guillén was no terrorist. He recognized his literary style in all Marcos' manifestos that where published in the media, linked them to their literary tournaments organized by the Jesuits in which they competed in Mexico. Confirming that he had no doubt that Marcos was his friend Rafael Guillén, a pacifist. Max Appedole asked for help from Edén Pastora, the legendary Nicaraguan "Commander Zero", to prepare a report for under-Secretary of the Interior Luis Maldonado Venegas; the Secretary of the Interior Esteban Moctezuma and the President Ernesto Zedillo about Marcos natural pacifist vocation and the terrible consequences of a tragic outcome. The document concluded that the marginalized groups and the radical left that exist in Mexico, have been vented with the Zapatistas movement, while Marcos maintains an open negotiating track. Eliminate Marcos and his social containment work would cease and the radical groups would take control of the movement. They will response to violence with violence. Terrorist activities would begin. The country would be in a dangerous spiral, which could lead to very serious situations because not only there is discomfort in Chiapas, but in many places in Mexico. Under a big political pressure of a highly radicalized situation in Mexico, Luis Maldonado Venegas reestablished the Mexican government-Zapatista Army of National Liberation dialog to search for peace by demonstrating Marcos' natural peace vocation and the terrible consequences of a military solution. Time showed that the policy initiated since the uprising by Carlos Salinas to achieve a peaceful solution to the Zapatista uprising was legal, politically and honorably correct, saving many lives in Mexico.

Catholic Church crisis

On February 11, 1995, Ernesto Zedillo 73-day old administration, without considering the political, social and religious consequences, ignited a crisis with the Roman Catholic Church, hurting, recently restored Mexico-Vatican diplomatic relations, already seriously damaged because of the May 24, 1993 political assassination of the Guadalajara, Mexico Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo that precisely that Agency, PGR, has left unresolved. PGR pressured the loved by the people in Chiapas, highly reputed, honored in the Vatican San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas Catholic bishop Samuel Ruiz García for aiding to conceal the Zapatistas guerrilla activity, even though the Catholic bishop's collaboration had been strategic and strongest instrument to keep the peace since the uprising and the EZLN activity was public years before the uprising.

Exile and Raúl Salinas controversies

Carlos Salinas (left), George H. W. Bush, and Brian Mulroney during the NAFTA Initialing Ceremony in Austin, Texas.

On February 28, 1995, Ernesto Zedillo 90-day-old administration ignited a tremendous political crisis versus Carlos Salinas; for this, he staged a brief hunger strike to protest the arrest of his older brother Raúl Salinas de Gortari (see below) as well as the accusations of responsibility for the country's economic travails that his successor as President, Ernesto Zedillo, aimed at him. He abandoned his campaign, which had been backed by the United States, to become the Director-General of the World Trade Organization. He left Mexico for self-imposed exile and settled in Ireland. Beyond the disputes over responsibility for Mexico's economic problems, Salinas's reputation was to be further clouded by a series of controversies involving close family members.

On December 6, 2004, Salinas's youngest brother, Enrique, was found dead in Huixquilucan, Estado de México, inside his car with a plastic bag strapped around his head. The case remains unsolved.

In January 1999, after a four-year trial, Salinas's older brother Raúl Salinas de Gortari was convicted of ordering the murder of the PRI official (and Salinas' brother-in-law) José Francisco Ruiz Massieu and sentenced to 50 years in prison. In July 1999, an appeals court cut the sentence to 27 1/2 years. In June 2005, the conviction was overturned, and Raúl Salinas was freed.

In November 1995, Raúl Salinas's wife, Paulina Castañón, and his brother-in-law, Antonio Castañón, were arrested in Geneva, Switzerland, after attempting to withdraw $84 million USD from an account owned by Raúl Salinas under an alias. Their capture led to the unveiling of a vast fortune spread around the world and amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, even though Raúl Salinas had never officially received an annual income of more than $190,000. A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office indicated that Raúl Salinas had transferred over $90 million out of Mexico into private bank accounts in London and Switzerland through a complex set of transactions between 1992 and 1994. In 2008, the government of Switzerland turned over $74 million, out of the $110 million in frozen bank accounts held by Raúl Salinas, to the government of Mexico. The Swiss Justice Ministry indicated that the Mexican government had demonstrated that $66 million of the funds had been misappropriated, and the funds, with interest, were returned to Mexico. The Salinas family would not receive back any of the frozen funds.

Later years

Salinas divorced his first wife soon after leaving office and married Ana Paula Gerard. He has six children: Cecilia, Emiliano and Juan Cristóbal from his first marriage; Ana Emilia, Patricio and Mateo from his second marriage.

In the last years of Zedillo's term, Carlos Salinas returned to Mexico to announce the publication of his book, Mexico: The Policy and the Politics of Modernization. Written during his stay in Ireland and full of quotations from press articles and political memoirs, it defended his achievements and blamed Zedillo for the crisis that followed his administration.

As of May 2010, Salinas was still living in Dublin, Ireland. Salinas also attended his son's civil wedding in Mexico City and promised to attend the subsequent religious wedding in late September.


Foreign honour

  •  Malaysia: Honorary Recipient of the Order of the Crown of the Realm (1991)

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Early life and education Presidential Election 1988 Presidency 1988–1994 Election-year crises Successor first days crises Later years Honour
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