Salinas de Gortari, Carlos (1948–)

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Salinas de Gortari, Carlos (1948–)

As president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994, Carlos Salinas established himself as a major figure in contemporary Mexican presidential history. He was born on April 3, 1948, in Mexico City, the son of Raúl Salinas Lozano, a former cabinet secretary, and Margarita de Gortari Carvajal, a teacher. Salinas studied in public schools in Mexico City, completing his pre-college work at the National Preparatory School No. 1, where he was active in student politics. He pursued an economics degree at the National University (1966–1969) with an important generation of future politicians, studying under Miguel de la Madrid and again participating in student politics. After graduating in 1971 he earned three degrees from Harvard: two MA degrees in public administration (1973) and political economy (1976) and a PhD in political economy and government (1978). His professors there included Otto Eckstein and Karl Deutsch. In 1966 he began his political career in the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) under Gonzalo Martínez Corbalá, but he quickly entered the public financial sector on completion of his first master's degree. After serving in several posts in the 1970s, including the Department of Financial Studies and International Affairs in the Treasury Secretariat, the source of many of his future collaborators, Salinas became director general of social and economic policy under de la Madrid in the Secretariat of Planning and Budgeting (1979–1981). When de la Madrid was selected as the PRI presidential candidate, he asked Salinas to serve as director of the PRI's Institute of Political, Economic, and Social Studies during the campaign of 1981–1982. He also served as de la Madrid's secretary of budgeting and planning, following in his mentor's footsteps, until his own designation as the PRI candidate for president in 1987.

Elected in the most disputed presidential campaign since the PRI's formation in 1929, Salinas came into office with barely a simple majority of the officially tallied vote, the lowest figure ever in a successful presidential campaign. With little legitimacy, outside of or within his own party, he took charge of the presidency in a dynamic, decisive manner. The major leitmotif of his ideology was economic liberalization and political modernization. Building on the legacy of his predecessor de la Madrid, Salinas sought to engineer a reversal of the growing role of the state in Mexican economic life. His administration sold off hundreds of state-owned enterprises, allowed North American firms to participate in the exploration of oil for the first time since 1938, significantly denationalized the banking industry, and advocated the establishment of a regional free trade block among Mexico, the United States, and Canada, thereby significantly reducing many of Mexico's traditional trade barriers. He continued to renegotiate the debt, while keeping up payments, and implemented policies to attract large amounts of foreign capital. While those policies contributed to economic growth beginning in the late 1990s, by 2007 they had yet to succeed in bringing economic benefits to most members of the working and lower middle classes, who saw their standard of living decline markedly after 1980.

Salinas's promises of political modernization were not fulfilled. Although some structural reforms were implemented during the 1990 PRI convention, and the government successfully legislated political reform through Congress in 1989, elections were characterized by excessive fraud and political violence. The government pursued a political strategy of co-opting the traditional Right, represented by the National Action Party (PAN), and implementing an uncompromising, repressive policy toward the new center Left, represented by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). This strategy was reflected in the 1989 and 1990 state and local elections, in which the National Action Party won its first gubernatorial race since 1929, but in which the PRD fared badly in every contest. This failure of political reform was a factor in the sudden emergence of a revolutionary peasant movement (the Zapatista Army of National Liberation) in Chiapas at the start of 1994. That uprising, together with a series of political assassinations (including that of the PRI's presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio), dominated the troubled close of the Salinas administration. When economic collapse ensued in December 1994 and Salinas's own brother, Raúl, was implicated in one of the assassinations, Carlos Salinas left Mexico with his reputation in considerable disarray. His ambition to become an important actor in the international community was destroyed. He lived in Ireland during the Ernesto Zedillo administration, and returned to Mexico after Vicente Fox became president. Salinas began to be active behind the scenes in PRI politics, but a widely held negative image in the media and among the citizenry prevented him from exerting a statesman's role as an ex-president.

Salinas also adopted a controversial policy toward the Catholic Church, appointing an official representative to the Vatican, consulting the hierarchy on numerous matters, inviting clergy to his inauguration, and welcoming Pope John Paul II to Mexico in 1990. Human rights organizations, including Americas Watch and Amnesty International, severely criticized his administration for the increase in human rights violations and abuses. In response, the government established a new Human Rights Commission in the summer of 1990, reinforcing the activities of nongovernmental human rights groups. On other bilateral fronts, especially in drug eradication, Salinas increased cooperation with the United States and took a hard-nosed approach toward this problem within Mexico.

The divisiveness of Salinas's presidency proved to have lasting effects on PRI's viability. His designation as president, and the economic policies he represented, helped provoke the split within the PRI in which Cárdenas and Porfirio Muñoz Ledo bolted the organization to form their own political movement in support of political reforms and more populist economic policies. Another group of reformers, calling themselves the "Critical Current," remained within the party, adopting a new structure in 1990, in hopes of exerting further pressure favoring internal reforms. Salinas's failure to decentralize and allow for greater political pluralization contributed to further divisions within his own party and the growth of political opposition in Mexico, culminating in the presidential electoral victory of the National Action Party in 2000.

See alsoCárdenas Solorzano, Cuauhtémoc; Colosio Murrieta, Luis Donaldo; Fox Quesada, Vicente; John Paul II, Pope; Mexico: Since 1910; Mexico, Political Parties: Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); Mexico, Political Parties: National Action Party (PAN); Mexico, Zapatista Army of National Liberation; Muñoz Ledo Lazo de la Vega, Porfirio; Salinas de Gortari, Raul.


Primary Work

Salinas de Gortari, Carlos. México: Un paso difícil a la modernidad. Mexico City: Plaza y Janés, 2000.

Secondary Works

Ayala Anguiano, Armando. Salinas y su México. Mexico City: Grijalbo, 1995.

Chand, Vikram K. Mexico's Political Awakening. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.

Domínguez, Jorge I. Democratizing Mexico: Public Opinion and Electoral Choices. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Levy, Daniel C., and Kathleen Bruhn. Mexico: The Struggle for Democratic Development. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

Roett, Riodan, ed. The Challenge of Institutional Reform in Mexico. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1995.

                                        Roderic Ai Camp

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Salinas de Gortari, Carlos (1948–)

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