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If Nixon could come back, could Carlos Salinas?

7 August 2008

Lex Luthor’s eviller twin, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, has been making the rounds lately, promoting his latest tome, “How Zedillo and Fox Fucked Up My Plans” “The Lost Decade” (La década perdida), in which he presents an alternative view of recent Mexican history.

Salinas blamed former presidents Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox for allowing Mexico to wallow in economic stagnation between 1995 and 2005. Massive migration was the consequence, Salinas contended.

“Five million compatriots left the country in search of a future in order to respond to their own expectations and those of their families,” Salinas said. “It’s difficult to encounter a country in times of peace that has a migratory phenomenon of this magnitude.”

As is customary, Salinas accepted no responsibility for the peso devaluation and financial crash of 1994-95 that immediately followed his term in office and ushered in Mexico’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Alluding to his successors’ responsibility for the current public safety crisis and “moral tragedy” of the times, Salinas did not mention the consolidation of the Juarez, Tijuana or Gulf cartels during his presidency. Nor did he delve into the explosive events of the last year of his administration, including the slaying of Guadalajara Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas OCampo; the murder of Salinas’s likely successor, Luis Donaldo Colosio; the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas; and the Mexico City gangland-style killing of Salinas’ former brother-in-law and PRI leader Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu.

Although Salinas supposedly received a respectable hearing from the PRI leadership in Chihuahua, it’s hard to see him making any sort of come-back. While I agree that the PRI will do well in the 2010 Congressional elections, I think it has more to do with the PRI’s recovery from a very bad Presidential campaign, and the failure of the leftist coalition led by the PRD to form a viable center-left alternative to the neo-liberal and conservative PAN.

Where PRI — up until Salinas — was the party of everybody except for the reaction and the Catholic Church, it has been a party of about 30 to 35 percent of the electorate since 1998. Nominally a Socialist Party, by the time Salinas came to the Presidency, PRI didn’t seem to have any particular economic or social core, instead following prescriptions drafted by foreign think-tanks. Salinas himself was a Harvard-trained economist. While Ernesto Zedillo, another Ivy-League trained economist, did manage to stem the disaster Salinas left at the end of his term, he could not stop the democratic reforms that were, at least in large part, the price Salinas and the PRI had to pay for even coming to the Presidency after stealing the election from Cuauhtemoc Cardenas in 1988. Salinas proteges, like Elba Esther Gordillo, made common cause with the ascendant PAN to maintain the trappings of power, while the party made a disasterous decision in 2005 to run the widely despised party leader, Roberto Madrazo, for the Presidency.

The united leftist fusion ticket, under Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, may have won the election (we’ll never know for sure), but the PRI did much worse than expected. Madrazo received only 17 percent of the vote, compared to about a third each for Caleron and Lopez Obrador. Salinas protege Gordillo’s party (mostly formed from the Teachers’ Union after she was purged from the PRI Central Committee) was the party’s worst showing ever.

Party leader Beatriz Paredes (who I think is a strong contender to be Mexico’s next president) has stopped the slide into irrelevance by giving the PRI a stronger image as a center-left alternative to PAN, and — especially in parts of the country where PRD is a stronger opponent than PAN — an image as an historically pragmatic socialist party. Salinas may have support in some northern states, where PAN is the stronger opponent, but if the party is going to regain it’s dominance, it will probably be through alliances with the left.

The latest polls show the three main parties at about the strength they were before the presidential election: PRI 35%, PAN 33% and PRD 13%. The Greens, which so far have been PRI loyalists, more than balance out Gordilla’s PANAL when it comes to maintaining PRI as the largest single political force. PRD and it’s allies, the Workers’ Party and Convergence, together with the Social Democrats hold the other 19 percent. This means that various leftist and labor parties have the loyalties of about two-thirds of the electorate. Add in the Zapatistas, who are a political force, but a non-voting one (by their own choice) and it’s probably even a higher percentage.

Unless Salinas can somehow perform a mass lobotomy on a nation that remembers its history… and re-invent his neo-liberalismo and failed NAFTA plan as nationalist and leftist, I honestly don’t see him returning to any major political role. If he does re-enter politics, it will be more as a Ralph Nadar figure than as a Richard Nixon.

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